I sometimes wonder if the elected and unelected government officials responsible for transportation planning in the San Francisco Bay Area are smoking something exotic at their meetings when they decide to spend taxpayer money on pie-in-the-sky studies. A new proposal is being considered to charge drivers a dime per mile for driving on the freeways to reduce rush hour congestion and pay for future transportation projects. What are they smoking and where can I get some?
The Bay Area is considering a long-range plan to become the first place in the nation to tax drivers for every mile they travel, with an average bill of up to $1,300 per year.
The proposal is a long way from becoming reality. But under the scenario, drivers would likely have to install GPS-like trackers on their cars to tally travel in the nine-county Bay Area, from freeways to neighborhood streets, with only low-income people exempted.
Transportation planners know they would have a tough time selling such a radical plan but argue the goal of the so-called VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax is to reduce traffic and pollution while raising revenue needed to fill potholes and bolster public transit service.
With my daily commute to my non-writing tech job in Silicon Valley, I would be paying an extra $60 USD per month for the privilege of driving on the freeway under this proposal. Taking the light rail at $70 USD per month would be cheaper, but my commute time would quadrupled to two hours each way since crossing the valley takes forever. As a writer, I could use the four-hour commute time for writing and editing manuscripts. As a rider, I would find it grueling in the morning to be at the light rail station at the crack of dawn and so exhausting that I’ll crash in bed after dinner every night. Before I got my driver license five years ago as a 38-year-old adult, I used to take public transit everywhere and slogged through the four hour grind.
I suspect this proposal will go the same way as the San Francisco proposal for a freeway toll to enter the City from the South Bay that was quickly scrapped after strong protests in 2010. Commuters would take the local streets that parallel the freeway system in most areas to bypass the VMT, increasing their commute time and burdening the surrounding neighborhoods. The only way to get drivers to install a GPS tracker on their car is to make it a registration requirement like car insurance.
Raising the gas tax that haven’t been raised since 1993 would be much more effective and simpler to implement. But, then again, you would have to be smoking something exotic to avoid such an obvious solution.