Universal Road User Charges Really? Many Questions that need Answers by the Rest of Us

Editor’s Note: One of our Texas members wrote the following guest post as a response to this past week’s first part of the NMA three-part newsletter called: Are We Slinking Ever Closer to a Universal Road User Charge. Parts two and three will be on the website www.motorists.org on July 28 and August 4, respectively.

RUC proponents are looking at possibly two ways to charge motorists: yearly inspection using a vehicle’s Odometer readings or utilizing GPS to track a car everywhere it goes during a specified time.

By guest writer Erik from Texas, an NMA Member

I’m pretty good at breaking systems because I analyze rules, pay cash, don’t use a smart phone, drive non-OBD-II compliant vehicles and have a creative mind when it comes to rules and failure points. I’ve seen a lot of weird things happen on the roads from my driving about 2.2M road miles in my lifetime. I’ve come up with practical questions about possible scenarios and unintended consequences a road user charge or RUC could create.

General Questions

First, what if I live in a rural, rainy area where 95 percent of my driving is on dirt roads? The roads are often flooded or very wet and when I drive my 4-wheel drive truck with a four on the floor and 44 inch mud tires, and I spend a lot of time with my tires spinning to get to Hillbillyville. I might log twice as many miles as what I actually drove. Do I pay double?

My daily drivers are vintage vehicles that no longer need to be inspected (25 years in TX). Do I ride for free? If I live in a state that does not have a yearly vehicle inspection like Montana, would I be exempt?

If I’m driving a car from the Model T era and have no odometer or for that matter a 6v electrical system or even no electrical system, do I ride for free?

The “all-inclusive GPS map” with “all roads”…how complete is it?  If drivers pay RUCs by using GPS, how would folks be tracked if the road is not on any map? Will there suddenly be long traffic jams on dirt Forest Service or county roads from folks trying not to pay their charge?

For example, in the Mojave Desert where off-roading is legal such as Glamis Dunes or BLM land, I could easily log 500 miles off road, but I am still driving on public lands. Will I get charged for this?  Do I pay less since there is no pavement and I had to winch out three times?

I take a long road trip from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Key West Florida going through Canada. Do I get billed for the miles in Canada? My GPS, of course, logs all those miles, some of which were even on ferries with my ignition in the accessory position so I could keep listening to 50s on 5. Do I get billed for the ferry miles in international waters because my GPS was on even though I logged no odometer miles?

Would the 126 jurisdictions I just drove through sue me, put black marks on my credit or put a lien on my vehicle because I didn’t pay an RUC in each place? Will there be a shootout in my driveway when the 14 repo men show up at the same time to repo the car for the unpaid fees on my paid off car?

Non-OBD-II Compliant

I have a 1996 F-350 with a PowerStroke Diesel and a higher gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR. It met an SAE J-XXXXX standard for trucks and is not fully OBD-II compliant.  Do I get a free ride?

What about motorcycles/mopeds/e-bikes/scooters/ATVs/NEVs/etc. To my knowledge none of these are OBD-II, except I suspect some Goldwings and BMW touring motorcycles sure might be but what about all the other small-engined machines we transport ourselves?

Some states allow all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the road as well as neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). Do they ride for free? Would we suddenly see more of them on the street driven by folks who want to reduce their overall RUC? Would this increase in small-engined transporters cause an increase in road rage, accidents, and even fatalities?

I tell you what—if I was attending high school in a rural area that allowed ATVs in the town I’d sure commute to school on one if I could skip paying that tax.

Odometers

Let’s say odometer data is used to determine the yearly road user charge (or RUC). My diesel truck, as mentioned from above, due to insufficient memory and terrible planning by Ford, has a digital odometer that is not capable of displaying over 399,999.9 miles. When it should be 400k, the odometer will roll back to 300k. The shop manual even has a note on this. The odometer has gone from 399,999.9 to 300k three times, and the truck is now actually at 503k. Do I get a refund for miles when my odometer reading is less than previous? I have not tampered with it, honest!

In some vehicles, you can easily disable the odometer by removing one fuse. You lose cruise control, but this was common in the 1990s as it gave you a Redneck Extended Warranty.

Some engine control units (ECUs) record the actual mileage. If I swap out an ECU or odometer from the junk yard, how would the government handle this scenario? Would I suddenly be billed for 200,000 miles that showed up over night? How would I be able to explain the situation adequately? Would I even be allowed to put an old junkyard ECU/odometer in my own car?

What about vehicles that are OBD-Zero and use a cable driven odometer? They used to sell “halfers” that would spin the cable at 1/2 the actual speed and log half the miles, another Redneck Extended Warranty. Maybe these will make a comeback along with other old cars to cut the RUC bills.

Farming and Ranching

What if I have a ranch on both sides of the highway? Do I need to pay a road user charge for my unlicensed ranch truck when I cross the highway to get from one pasture to another?

If I move my combine/tractor/hay bale loader down a public roadway to reach a field nearby, do I suddenly have to pay a RUC even though I’m running exempt red dye ag fuel in my ag equipment?

Other Road Users

There is an Alaska Marine Highway. Are we going to charge the boats too? After all, it IS a state highway! Check it out: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/fleet.shtml

Rural folks still ride horses, sometimes even on the road. How do we make Mr. Ed pay since he is a road user? Same issue with the Amish and other religious minimalists who use a horse and buggy—will they have the privilege of paying an RUC?

We better make absolutely sure that bicycles pay since bicyclists ride on bike lanes and groomed trails paid for by money stolen from those who have paid fuel taxes for decades.

What about marathon runners? They are road users too. Shouldn’t they pay their fair share also, especially since officials shut down roads for these blasted events which inconvenience paying road users who need to get to places in a timely manner?

Other Pertinent Questions with No Answers Probably

Back in the 1970s before the International Fuel Tax Agreement or IFTA system began, truckers had to buy a sticker for every state they drove through to pay for road taxes. There were license plate type things called “bingo stamps” on the CB radio. Will I need one of those? It occurs to me that divvying up the taxes to all the hands hanging out is similar to the anti-online sales tax arguments that indicated the complexity of the data base for this kind of thing—not to mention the accuracy. Will I need 6,239 tax stickers on my pretty Tesla or that many apps on my phone to contribute to all my RUCs?

Probably the most crucial question of all—what happens if the server for the RUC tracking system goes down? Will it be like the intermittent Facebook/Google/Apple issues that sometime make our online life inconvenient? Or maybe it would be like the quagmire that is the SunPass Toll Scandal in Florida that has been going on now for over a year.

If the GPS intrusion system goes down, would it disable all the connected cars right where they stand until the system reboots? If they can’t track us after a major malfunction, what happens then? Would we get a free ride, or would my windshield then become a “blue screen?”

Exceptions

You know this will happen right away—the weaseling in the “just a few” exceptions that grow to 50 percent of the tax base that is now exempt really screwing the other 50 percent.

A lot of toll roads look somewhat like this.

First EMS/Fire/Police are exempt.

Then state vehicles.

Now county vehicles.

Uh oh!

Now the city governments are complaining about not being exempted and on we go.

If every road user had to pay every time they used a road, how long do you really think that would last? What if officials decide to charge us per mile, plus keep and maybe even increase the gas tax plus encourage more states to run toll roads or utilize congestion pricing schemes in the urban cores?

Many of us do not live in big cities and rely on our vehicles to bring goods and services to others. If we can no longer afford to do that, our economy will not survive.

Many people claim my comments are preposterous and would never apply or that I choose outliers for my scenarios. Many thought that the scenarios in the novel 1984 or Robocop would never happen either.

In the last decade, we have quickly become a surveillance state with all the cameras, automotive telematics systems, smart phones, and “free” stealth tracking apps, ALPRs and now autonomous vehicles logging and sharing images.

We do not need a road user charge to destroy what little privacy we have left and limit Americans ability to move freely and gather peacefully without undue interference/tracking from government and quasi-governmental entities.

Editor’s Note: If you have an instance of a possible road user charge question, write the question below in the comments section.

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