January 2009


© Guerito 2005Image via WikipediaAs an update related to my earlier post on the Oregon idea for a mileage tax in place of the gasoline tax:  Here’s a case where the model of cost-per-mile could actually make sense – but not as a road-maintenance related tax.  Instead, this furthers the green and energy independence aspects that the mileage tax would discourage.  In this case, the cost per-mile concept underlies a quicker shift by consumers to electric vehicles.  Better Place is working on transforming the auto market to work more like the communications industry, where the consumer pays for service/minutes – in this case miles.  In doing so, it looks to shift a major expense factor of EVs to being acquired over time – not altogether different from the way we buy fuel for our gas powered cars over time – not all at once.  (I’m calling the auto industry under this scenario the “commutications industry.”)

In addition to looking to make charging ports ubiquitous, for topping-off the battery whenever parked, the concept  involves battery swapping stations, whereby drivers would pull in when they need a fill-up, and rather than charging the battery that is in their car, a hot one would be swapped in on the fly – in the time that it would take for an ordinary gas fill-up.  The batteries in this case would not be owned by the consumer, but would be part of the subscription or service plan.

Circling back to a point that I made in the earlier post – different cars have different levels of economy/efficiency – so owners of lower economy cars should bear some added cost, beyond just per-mile.  This can’t just be a matter of how much juice is used, since some batteries will have better retention / performance – and these being the property of the company… (well, you get the point).

Service can manifest in a range of ways – from people getting the service for a car they themselves purchase, to cars being provided as part of the service (much like a free phone provided under a phone service plan).  Interestingly, Better Place is also pushing governments to require participants in this market to comply with standards – so from the beginning, there won’t be competing standards (e.g. HD vs Blu-ray) which could delay our reaching energy independence by slowing adoption while people wait to see which standard would take.

None of this solves Oregon’s road maintenance revenue issue.  In fact it underscores the problem.  Increasing the gas tax, though, would keep the pedal to the metal (so to speak) in driving (pun intended) out gas engines there.  If the Better Place service providers do master mileage metering however,  that could address the technical issues behind the proposed tax, and serve as a substitute once the gas guzzlers are all gone.

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El Temple I (Color)Image by gabirro via Flickr

I’m not generally one to comment on political matters (ok, I never do, other than this this month, for some reason) at least not for political purposes.  The linkage here to my typical areas of discussion should soon be readily aparrent.  Feel free to comment or email me if not, and I’d be glad to elaborate.

We are at an amazing point in history – and not just because Barack Obama is about to become the first African American president.  He is, thanks to his charisma, drive, eloquence, perspective… representative of the transition point we’ve reached.  This period of change has been brewing since 2000, and was set in motion in earnest in 2004.  His success in getting to this point has been both a catalyst for, and the result of, Americans being ready for what Obama has called “The Change We Need”.

This change is about transcendence, repair, and to borrow from the technical lexicon – interoperability – domestically and internationally, philosophically, infrastructurally.  Not to imply that there aren’t still dark days ahead, but we’ve already seen movement across party and racial lines, and participation, if not enthusiasm among the previously non-voting or heretofore politically and/or socially indifferent (- the numb or perhaps even the resigned or capitulated).

In these economic times, and while the world’s perception of the U.S. is at a low, we could ask for nothing greater than the combination of an energized and informed nation with an administration tuned to leveraging and guiding this  enthusiasm – to rebuild.  Interoperability – between the government and the people, between departments, programs, institutions – connecting the moving parts necessary – is the technology of this new era, to make this change work.

Old petrol pumps in Nøtterøy, NorwayImage via WikipediaLast week, I read a story about an idea being considered in Oregon — to move from a gas tax to a mileage tax, to offset losses in road repair revenue as a result of there being more cars with better fuel economy.  As Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, put it:   As cars burn less fuel, “the gas tax isn’t going to fill the bill“.

Many may think this seems like an interesting idea, and that even if I did live in Oregon, it wouldn’t impact me very much.    Those of you who are of the value network persuasion will likely recognize, right away, the counterproductivity this move would represent.  For me, this idea makes little “cents” (pun intended).

Here we are pushing “green”, and acting as if we recognize the impact we’ve had on our environment.  And along comes a complicated and expensive approach that seems to perpetuate what I call “long-term short-sightedness”.

Sure, such a tax could serve to counter the revenues being lost as a result of cars having better fuel economy – but at the cost of creating a disincentive to  progress and participation we’ve made on the environmental front?

Perhaps not the best alternative, but simply increasing the overall fuel tax, rather than a system that offsets an incentive to “do your part” (at least the part of increased economy), seems a better way to attack the problem – assuming that the problem is simply the reduced revenue.

Another alternative, related to suggestions that the real tartet here is congestion, or at least congestion at certain times of the day, would be to implement tolls – or an EZPass type system for an automated approach.  This would “tax” the road use at issue and could be a more efficient approach from an infrastructure standpoint – and one that doesn’t deter what some people are doing to reduce costs/emissions.

Sure, I’m an outsider in this particular case (by about 2,750 miles), and yes, I’ve likely oversimplified the situation, but in addressing new problems, doesn’t it make the most sense to consider all the moving parts and various objectives that we’re trying to satisfy with our actions?

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