TOM WARD - Toll gantries obsolete even before they’re built

TOM WARD - Toll gantries obsolete even before they’re built

The work began just a few weeks ago in my neighborhood. Toll gantries, part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program for tolling trucks to pay for repairs to roads and bridges, are coming to the area near quiet Scott Road and Ashton Elementary School. The road above is the entrance to Rhode Island from Massachusetts for those taking I-295.

It’s also the busiest short-cut in town. If they ever do decide to toll cars, there will be hell to pay. My wider thought is this, though. All of these gantries, all of this infrastructure, and even all of the collections of a gas tax – all of it is obsolete.

About that shortcut. Cumberland is a bit odd. Wide at the north, narrow to the south. And two basically parallel north-south roads – Diamond Hill Road (Route 114) and Mendon Road (Route 122) are the town’s arteries. Connecting them are main thoroughfares like Nate Whipple Highway, Angell Road, and Marshall Avenue. Finally, there is another: I-295. Thousands of residents daily take the interstate as a shortcut to Dave’s Marketplace or Depault Hardware or Planet Fitness or other local businesses. And the new toll gantry will be right here, between exits 20 and 22, chipping away at the wallets of trucking companies in the next year or so.

Raimondo has made it clear: Tolling will never be applied to cars. Many, many Rhode Islanders don’t believe her. I happen to believe her today, but as we all know, things change. Our state’s thirst for money is unquenchable. Suddenly, we’ll have a recession and toll gantries in place, ready to confiscate your family’s money with the flip of a switch.

None of it needs to be this way.

Suppose we had a system of satellites in the sky (like those which now provide driving directions to us through GPS) that “pinged” every single car and truck in the United States and counted miles traveled, then debited our checking account, in much the same way toll transponder companies do now?

How might it work? You’d pay “per mile” for driving. What would the trade-off be? You would no longer pay any gas tax, and there would be no tolls. There would be no reason at all for Rhode Island to waste millions of dollars on gantries, and no reason to share toll revenue with the collecting companies.

How is this more fair, more “just”? Consider this: If you’ve got a 15-gallon gas tank, you pay the federal government $2.76 in gas tax per fill-up. You’ll pay Rhode Island another $5.10. That’s $7.86 in gas taxes every time you fill your tank.

And the guy driving that gorgeous red Model S Tesla? The guy who could cough up $85,000 for the car (and another $6,000 in sales tax)? That guy? His car is electric, so he pays no tax to use the road.

Obviously, I’m not anti-electric car. The use of them will grow dramatically in the future, which is all the more reason to figure out today how to more fairly charge a fair rate to every single vehicle which uses the road.

It seems every time this comes up, the privacy warriors act up. “We don’t want the government tracking us ... knowing where we’re going and how many miles we’ve gone.” But do drivers need to be tracked? I think not. We need only electronically ping a car monthly to find out how many miles the car – or big rig, or RV, or UPS truck – went and charge them a per-mile rate, with higher rates for large vehicles. What we are trying to accomplish with costly gantries – the tolling of trucks only – doesn’t need any of this infrastructure. We’re wasting millions!

Mind you, this cannot be done by Rhode Island alone. It will take a national effort to transition to a new system. But it will come, as more and more electric vehicles hit the road and more and more those with gas engines figure out they’re getting cheated. In the near future, gas taxes may be forced up to make up for the shortfall in revenue caused by a greater percentage of electric cars. This is fair?

The collection of gas taxes and tolling is already obsolete, and we can do better. It’s just too bad it will take years – even decades – to transition to a future that is technologically possible now, and so obvious to see.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze

Comments

Two comments:

1.- Some States, Virginia for one, already send electric and hybrid car owners supplemental tax bills in lieu of gas taxes not paid. Article is not accurate that electric/hybrid owners are avoiding road taxes, its just paid in another way.

2.- Do you really believe Federal and States will forgo gas taxes, tolls, car personal property taxes in order to simplify to a "mileage tax"? Simple answer is NO! And the reason is found in the article itself, unquenchable thirst for more tax income.

Article may just have handed RI taxing authorities a new idea for taxes.

Careful in what you ask for.

Perhaps I should have written that electric car owners in R.I. avoid gas taxes. Thanks for letting me know that some states are collecting those taxes. And yes, in time, I expect that all governments will simplify road taxes and end gas taxes and tolls. It will have to happen as gas use slows. I could see the possible punishment of those using gasoline in the future, however, if climate alarmists come to unfettered power.