Innovation (and a few of these blog posts) has laid bare the fact that making drivers compensate the public for their use of the roads through taxes on gasoline purchases alone may not work in the 21st century. In fact, it makes much more logical—and economic—sense to tax people based on the number of miles they drive, and perhaps on the size and weight of their vehicle. Furthermore, I don't believe that electric vehicles are not part of the road funding deficit, they merely point out the problem that funding road construction and maintenance from a gasoline "use tax" is an archaic method that needs to be replaced with something far more elegant, progressive and fair to ALL vehicles that put two, three, four, 10 or 18 wheels on the road.
There is one final perspective I think is worth adding to the road funding discussion. Somewhere along my life, I read that the Roman Empire was as good as it's roads. A quick online search for "roman road network importance" found the following fascinating article, 8 Ways Roads Helped Rome Rule the Ancient World. Of the eight, the following begin the formation of my final perspective:
- Roads were the key to Rome’s military might.
- They were incredibly efficient.
- They were easy to navigate.
- They were well-protected and patrolled.
The start of this idea is that far more than individual drivers benefit from roads. People who don't drive benefit from mass transit that does use roads. Police, ambulance and fire service use roads to quickly get to where they are needed. Of course they pay the gas tax when they fill up, but roads allow these services to add so much more value to society by allowing them to move quickly throughout the built environment.
On the other hand, while vehicles like buses, large trucks and even construction equipment driving on and building roads do pay the same gas tax, I question whether they are paying enough for the weight, wear and damage they apply to the infrastructure and the physical footprint they occupy on the actual road. For once, I'll give the military a break. When I was a kid my brothers and I would watch enormous convoys of military trucks driving up U.S. Highway 61, taking lots of space, adding their collective damage to the surface. However, since I have now learned that the federal government is adding a lot to the Highway Trust Fund, I'm giving the military a pass on their use of the roads. The federal government has covered their "use."
Well-placed, well-designed roads make life better for everyone. I am confident that as fuel efficient vehicles of all sizes continue to occupy roads and as electric vehicle sales increase, states and or the federal government will develop a road funding system that charges passenger and transport vehicles for the miles they are driven, plus state and federal funding that adds to highway and road needs because they are good for civil society for everyone.
Just for the fun of it, I created a bonus set of talking points for every electric vehicle driver to have on hand should someone start a conversation with “You’re not paying your fair share of the gas tax.” You can read and print them from my next blog entry.