With so many Americans worried about Apple tracking the movements of iPhone users, it's hard to imagine many people allowing government agencies to monitor their driving habits and levy a tax based on how many miles they travel.
But officials in Texas and many other states are studying different ways to track drivers' movements electronically. On Thursday, a group from Minnesota briefed the Texas Transportation Commission on a pilot program there that will track a few drivers and tax them per mile. On a larger scale, such a tax for Texans and most other Americans would likely be many years down the road -- if it were enacted at all.
Even so, the technology to perform the work is readily available today.
Why is this being discussed? Many transportation experts believe that a funding crisis is looming for highways and mass transit, which are paid for mostly with motor fuel taxes -- the Texas state tax is 20 cents a gallon, and the federal tax is 18.4 cents a gallon. As many cars become more fuel-efficient, and cars that run on electricity or other fuels become more popular, states must eventually find an alternative.
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Supporters say the per-mile tax has its benefits. For example, motorists can be charged more for driving during peak periods, when space on highways is at a premium, and rewarded with discounts for driving after hours, when demand is lower.
Also, the Minnesota program, which begins in July, is voluntary, said Ben Pierce, an official with Batelle, the high-tech firm overseeing it.
Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi of Austin noted the controversy that developed after it became known that Apple can track iPhone users. Delisi asked a question to the effect of, if the state promises the pilot project participants that they're not being tracked for ulterior reasons -- i.e. spying -- would they believe it?
But Commissioner Ned Holmes of Houston thanked Pierce for his briefing. "We look forward to hearing from you again," Holmes said. "When are you coming back?"
Pierce said he could tell the Texas panel how the Minnesota program is working as soon as October.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796