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I just don’t understand the enthusiasm for $100 electric-vehicle fees, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) taxes, and all the other workarounds for simply raising the gas tax. It’s true that gasoline usage is declining, but gasoline is far from disappearing from our economy. Indeed, from an environmental or balance-of-trade perspective that would be a great problem to have, and one that can be addressed when it arrives.

Gas tax increases are unpopular, but less so than the alternatives. License fees have been a continual initiative lightning rod; VMT taxes require a transponder to track movements, which requires a whole new infrastructure and will have privacy advocates up in arms.

If you’re going to tax something tax something undesirable. Gas usage is a good choice, and so is driving at congested times. But merely owning an electric car, while not exactly benign, is well down the list of negative externalities.

76 Replies to “Keep Taxing Gasoline”

  1. The primary point of a gas tax is to pay for the roads. When all cars use gasoline, the gas tax is as good a way as any to make drivers pay for the roads in proportion to how much they wear the roads out: huge trucks wear out the roads faster than small cars, and they also pay more tax per mile because they tend to be less fuel-efficient.

    For the time being I do support raising the gas tax. The current tax rate is not nearly high enough to fully pay for road construction and maintenance, and it would be fairest to raise the gas tax so that those who use roads less do not have to pay for them out of general sales and property tax funds.

    However, as more and more cars on the road become powered by electricity or other non-gasoline fuel sources, the gas tax will no longer be a reasonable approximation of road usage. A Nissan Leaf weighs about the same as several other passenger vehicles, but its owner will contribute no gas tax. For a few years I think this is a good incentive to purchase greener vehicles, but eventually the government will need to find alternate sources of revenue to replace the gas tax. I think an annual tax considering some combination of vehicle weight and miles traveled is a good alternative to consider. Such a tax should not necessarily require a transponder to track movements. Just require that all drivers go in and get their odometer read once a year as a condition of getting their license tabs renewed.

    1. How about we tie road development to the sales tax just like we tied transit to it? Then in economic slowdowns, when it’s cheapest to pay for necessary improvements, we won’t be able to spend money on roads because there’s no tax revenue!

      /sarcasm off

      1. Brilliant, because gas tax revenues don’t fall during recessions, do they? Only sales tax revenues fall during recessions, right?

      2. Norman, [ad hom]. Gas tax revenues don’t fall nearly as much during recessions as sales tax revenues do. We’re disproportionately screwing the people who are most hurt by recessions.

    2. Approximately 20% of sales tax revenues come from sales taxes on new and used cars. Another large chunk of sales tax revenue comes from vehicle parts, servicing, repairs, etc.

      So, car owners pay a very significant percentage of all sales tax revenue collected in WA state.

      1. So, motorists are paying billions each year in sales taxes, on top of the billions each year they pay in gas taxes, licenses, MVETs, parking fees, parking taxes, et. al. The total of all the taxes motorists pay on their transportation is far more than the total spend on highways and roads in WA state.

        That’s what.

      2. Motorists? What decade do you think this is? Your shtick is straight out of a 1920’s GM propaganda book.

        Do you really think that if people didn’t spend their disposable income on cars that they would just save that money and the state’s sales tax revenue would go down? It doesn’t make a difference to the state if you spend your money on horse saddles or car tires.

      3. There’s absolutely no reason that those expenditures should be dedicated to transportation. But if they are directed toward transportation, there’s also no reason that they should be exclusively dedicated to roads.

      4. Norman – I assume gas tax revenues fall during recessions because drivers will drive less during recessions (unemployment, to save money, etc)

      5. “Do you really think that if people didn’t spend their disposable income on cars that they would just save that money and the state’s sales tax revenue would go down?”

        If people don’t buy and drive cars, they still need transportation, right? That means, for the most part, transit. THERE IS NO TAX ON TRANSIT FARES!

        So, if you don’t have a car, and you spend a few thousand dollars per year on transit, you pay ZERO SALES TAX on that few thousand dollars you spend on transportation. You also spent zero gas tax, zero MVET, zero licence fee, et. al.

        However if you spend a few thousand dollars per year on a car, you are paying a lot of tax — sales taxes on parts, services, the car itself; license fees, MVET, gas tax, et al.

        So, YES! Obviously! If you own and drive a car you pay a lot of taxes on your transportation expenditures that people who do not own or drive cars DO NOT PAY. The money you spend on transit IS NOT TAXED.

        Do you comprehend this, or not?

        Also, if you spent more “disposable income” on groceries, season tickets for M’s, Sounders, or Seahawks, rent for a more-expensive aprtment, medical care, dental care, prescription drugs, lawyer fees, etc. etc., THERE IS NO SALES TAX ON THOSE THINGS, EITHER.

        So, in short, cars are taxed in every way imaginable. THERE IS ZERO TAX ON TRANSIT FARES (and many other things).

        Should I repeat that again, or you do you get it now?

      6. That statement makes no sense at all. Metro is exempt from paying tax on fuel purchases. Even if they did fares only cover about 20% of the cost of operating the buses and the percentage of total sales tax paid by transit riders is far less than 20% (probably closer to 2%).

    3. The primary point of a gas tax is to pay for the roads.

      Therein lies the rub. What do you mean by ‘paying for the roads’?
      Paying for road repair? Paying for more capacity? Paying for whose roads?

      When all cars use gasoline, the gas tax is as good a way as any to make drivers pay for the roads in proportion to how much they wear the roads out: huge trucks wear out the roads faster than small cars, and they also pay more tax per mile because they tend to be less fuel-efficient.

      Also heavier vehicles pay more for their license tabs in weight fees, seems appropriate.

      For the time being I do support raising the gas tax. The current tax rate is not nearly high enough to fully pay for road construction and maintenance, and it would be fairest to raise the gas tax so that those who use roads less do not have to pay for them out of general sales and property tax funds.

      I would rather see all of the current gas tax go towards maintaining the current road system. None should be used for construction of new capacity, unless…

      Since the capital costs of the Sound Transit projects were put to a public vote to authorize taxes to fund them, why shouldn’t road projects?

      However, as more and more cars on the road become powered by electricity or other non-gasoline fuel sources…

      As far as weight issues are concernec, that can be taken care of by the weight fee in the annual tabs.

      However, if these cars are competing for space on the road system, then the ‘user fee’ should resemble all the other transportation modes, in this case, a toll.

      All other modes charge their ‘customers’ based on availability of the commodity they sell. So should the road system.

      I think an annual tax considering some combination of vehicle weight and miles traveled is a good alternative to consider.

      VMT has no correlation to where the person drives, where they damage the roads, and where the money gets spent. It would seem to be just another way to ‘stick it to the driver’.

      1. VMT has no correlation to where the person drives, where they damage the roads, and where the money gets spent. It would seem to be just another way to ‘stick it to the driver’.

        I don’t think that’s true at all. All the VMT fee systems I’ve heard about involve using GPS so that you can track precisely which roads you’re travelling on. If you really just wanted to levy a tax based on the number of miles traveled, it would be much simpler to just track the odometer.

        I totally agree with you that an “odometer tax” isn’t really any better than a gas tax for the purpose of congestion pricing. But a smart VMT, with the GPS and all that, is pretty much the only way to meaningfully apply congestion pricing to city streets. Tollbooths work fine for limited-access roads, but imagine trying to install a tollbooth at every intersection in a city!

        With a sufficiently advanced VMT system, you can easily charge any rate you want for any road at any time. In fact, you could even publish the rates in a standard format, such that navigation programs/devices could use it to calculate the “cheapest route” (which would probably also be the least congested).

    4. Great idea, Eric, but we shouldn’t switch entirely to it. Weight-mile is good proxy for road usage, but the fuel tax shouldn’t be switched off entirely. A stiff fuel tax is a bit like a carbon tax.

      So we need both in the right proportion. What’s the “right proportion?” I don’t know, but it’s the kind of thing the politics is actually rather good at determining.

      1. It sounds to me like the “right proportion” would be determining each independent of each other, since they’re trying to correct different externalities – weight-mile is correcting wear and tear on the roads, the gas tax is correcting carbon emissions (and should be switched entirely to paying for transit and electric-charging stations). In other words, tax weight-mile to the full extent necessary to approximate wear and tear, and tax gas to the full extent necessary to correct carbon emissions.

        What the politics ends up amounting to is, the politicians, especially Democrats, decide that no tax can ever be too high and jack both up, and then suburbanites come out screaming “war on cars” and “double taxation” and Republicans promise to cut everyone’s taxes and Eyman comes out with his initiatives limiting both taxes past the point of feasibility and the effect is to ratchet both down, and everything ends up determined by everything except the actual factors involved. Probably the ratio of gas tax to weight-mile tax roughly amounts to the ratio of transit riders/electric drivers to gas-guzzler drivers, which might maximize revenue and non-pissed-off voters, but probably not actually correcting externalities.

      2. tax weight-mile to the full extent necessary to approximate wear and tear

        Including buses? Obviously that’s a bit tongue in cheek but buses do beat the heck out of roads and a good portion of the time they’re carrying only a few people or deadheading. It would be an interesting comparision to weight the cost of a project like the 1st Hill Streetcar vs how much is spent on road construction and repair to support buses.

  2. I read somewhere that there is a local option gas tax that King County could impose to help out Metro. Is this correct? If so, why do we not already have it?

    I agree vigorously with this post. Gas use is roughly correlated with road use and vehicle weight, closely correlated with air pollution, and almost perfectly correlated with GHG emissions. I believe heavy goods vehicles already pay extra for registration, too. Why anyone would waste time with other things is a total mystery to me. We are decades away from having to worry about electric cars undermining the existing highway funding system.

    The fundamental reform that needs to take place is that gas tax needs to change from an excise (flat rate per gallon) to a sales (percentage) tax. This means it will keep pace with inflation automatically and the higher per-gallon revenue during periods of high prices will help offset of the reduced purchases at those times.

    1. Gas use is roughly correlated with road use and vehicle weight, closely correlated with air pollution, and almost perfectly correlated with GHG emissions.

      First, in an ideal world, I believe that the gas tax should exclusively and entirely cover the externalities of gasoline consumption. This means pollution (both the smog and greenhouse gas aspects). It’s interesting to note that, in WA state (and elsewhere), fuel is taxed differently depending on whether or not it’s intended for road use. If the gas tax was solely used to offset the intrinsic externalities of gasoline consumption, this wouldn’t be necessary, since burning gas releases (roughly) the same pollutants whether it’s used in a car or a lawnmower.

      Second, I’m not sure I agree with the first part of your statement. Even if we accept the correlation between vehicle weight and road damage — which ignores hybrids and alternative fuels — this completely ignores the issue of congestion. By definition, you can’t price congestion with a gas tax. Congestion taxes work by making it more expensive to drive in certain areas at certain times. A gas tax is invariant across location and time, so you get no such benefit.

      I support VMT fees for the same reason that I support tolls; compared to the gas tax, they provide a much more effective and direct incentive to drive less on congested roads at busy times.

      I want to reiterate that this has nothing to do with alternative fuels. Even if we completely replaced the motor-vehicle-gas tax with a motor-vehicle-electricity tax, a fuel tax is still useless as a tool for reducing congestion.

      (I completely agree about the $100 electric car tax, though; that’s just pointless.)

      1. We agree on 90% of this.

        I have two objections to VMT taxes. They’re expensive and difficult to enforce, whereas the gas tax is very simple and the logistics are in place. (In a country like the US where it’s prohibitively expensive to collect small interstate debts, it’s impossible unless done at the national level, and that won’t happen in my lifetime. Taxes should be — and must be perceived by the public to be — straightforward and equally enforced.)

        Second, congestion (unlike pollution) is not a global externality. If everyone drove electric cars, I as a non-driver wouldn’t give a s*** if everyone else sat in traffic on the freeway. The case for government intervention is thus less compelling.

        I think there are cheaper and more effective ways of attacking congestion. The gas tax has some utility in this respect, as anything that reduces vehicle use reduces congestion a little.

        Even more useful are carrots in the form of HOV/HOT/transit lanes and grade separated transit. HOV lanes incentivize carpooling and HOT lanes also provide those who are willing to buy into a system with a way of paying extra to avoid congestion. Transit obviously provides that benefit on an even greater scale but also helps achieve the ultimate cure for congestion: a built environment where most people do not need to own cars, and those who do own cars don’t need to use them for most trips.

      2. I completely appreciate your first point. I definitely agree that legibility is an important criterion for a well-designed tax/subsidy. That said, I think this is less of an issue than you claim. Cost, IMHO, is a non-issue — any cost involved in installing GPS black boxes would be quickly recouped by the new fees (if the system was designed right). The interstate issue doesn’t bother me much either; most people spend most of their time in a single state, and even tourists will probably drive local rental cars (the taxes for which will be paid by the rental agency and passed onto the consumer in some form).

        And even enforcement doesn’t seem like a huge problem. Once you’ve installed the GPS units, and made it a felony to tamper with them, you’re pretty much set. The people who would tamper with their GPS for the purpose of saving money are (I would bet) pretty much the same people who would mess with their car’s odometer before selling it, and there just aren’t that many of them.

        As to your second point: your statement is correct, but I’m not sure I see why that matters. There’s no rule that says that externalities have to affect everyone. I would never propose a government toll or VMT tax on a private road. But roads tend to be owned by the government, and so the government is the only entity that has the ability to set prices. Think of it less as a government levying a tax, and more as a business setting a price for a product.

        I’m 100% with you on carrots over sticks. In this case, though, I don’t see congestion pricing as a stick, but rather as a smart business decision. Anyone who drives will be happier to have uncongested roads, even if they aren’t happy to pay the extra fee.

  3. As much as I am pro-gas tax and want to encourage adoption of electric vehicles by creating financial incentives, one danger of relying solely on gas taxes to fund roads is figuring out what to do in the long run if we are successful in dramatically decreasing the number of gas-burning vehicles on the roads.

    At some point, you can’t keep raising the gas tax on smaller and smaller numbers of gas-powered cars. We’re many years away from that, but public policy is not known for its ability to adapt and change with the times. So there may be some merit in a VMT type tax which will be viable even if/when a transition from gas accelerates.

    That said, I agree with Bruce that having gas tax as an excise tax makes no sense.

    1. There’s no rule that says that externalities have to affect everyone……

      did anyone say they did?? have externalities ever affected everyone???

    2. is it the number of gas burning vehicles on the road that is a problem or the amount and filtering of the gas burnt???

      fireplaces bother me more than cars.

  4. Rising gas prices scare me about the gas tax. Revenues will go down as gasoline becomes more expensive because people will consume less, and as the prices go up there will be more pressure to lower the tax.

    1. So make the tax a percentage, not a fixed cost. The higher the cost of gas, the more you collect, but you collect it on fewer gallons.

  5. These workarounds (car tabs, etc) are attempts to avoid the state’s constitutional strictures on usage of the gas tax revenue, not bad economics. I hear you, Martin, that it would be nice for policy to be based on good science and good economics. Unfortunately, politics gets in the way, and we have to come up with political solutions to the bad policy that we inherited.

    I also hear you when you say professional planners with degrees, not politicians, should design transits routes. Well, guess what. The routes were designed by a political process to start with, carried forward via political inertia, and, as even Jack Latteman admits, rarely change, except through outside *political* pressure.

    That you even made this post gives you a rather strong appearance of being unschooled in state transportation law. I know that’s not the case, but after your post in which you discounted other people’s opinions about the role of the TMP process, and then refused to answer questions, I’m becoming concerned about your political naivete, and whether you were a good choice to be a voice of the transit community on the TAB. Give us reason to believe you understand transportation policy and politics enough to not fritter away the city’s investment in your seat on the TAB.

    And please, go back to the post about the TMP process, and answer the questions people directed to you.

    1. The context of this discussion is how to handle the fact that gas tax isn’t covering road expenditures. The 18th Amendment is irrelevant to the argument. No one is talking about taking the electric vehicle fee and using it for transit, unfortunately.

      I suppose that could have been clearer in the post.

    2. I went back and wrote a few more replies, although if you actually have a question addressed to me you should probably email it. I didn’t realize I was contractually obligated to respond to all comments.

      If you think I’m the biggest obstacle to reform on the TAB, or that a seat on it gives much in the way of executive power, you have another thing coming.

      1. I thank you for the responses and apologize for misrepresenting your views about the role of politics in transit planning.

  6. A gas tax is a good thing. It just needs to be higher and levied as a percentage so that it isn’t dimished in real terms by inflation over time.

    If the problem is that electric cars get a pass and this could create a revenue drain over time as more people buy them, then shift it from a gas tax to a carbon tax. Everyone would pay either at the pump or where they plug in, in proportion to their emissions. Then charge tolls to make up the difference in funding to pay for road projects. As people switch to lower-emissions vehicles and driving habits, you simply raise the tolls to compensate so that those who continue to drive more must pay more for the privilege. Either people will drive less (or at least less per capita) and you won’t need to build the roads paid for by the money, or they won’t drive less and there will be plenty of money to pay for projects.

  7. The premise to the post is faulty. Gas usage is not undesirable. If one believes otherwise, they have to make the case why that’s so. He skipped right past that in this post, presumably thinking everyone already agrees with him?

    1. I dunno, maybe the severe negative environmental consequences of gasoline extraction, refining and consumption?

    2. It’s widely accepted among economists that the price of gas fails to take into account several externalities of gas consumption. In particular, as Bruce mentions, gasoline has a number of negative environmental effects, such as producing smog and releasing greenhouse gases. These effects are not completely borne by the purchaser, which is why they’re considered externalities.

      The goal of a gas tax, like any Pigovian tax, is not to reduce consumption to zero — if we wanted to do that, we’d just ban gas entirely (e.g. set a tax of infinity). Rather, the goal is to raise the price high enough such that the quantity of gas demanded is the socially optimal level, where that level is somwhere less than it is now.

      Do you believe that the current level of gasoline consumption is socially optimal, or that the current level of gas tax is high enough that it fully internalizes all of the externalities of gas consumption?

    3. The major negative externality of gasoline usage is that it is a DAMN STUPID way to use an stunningly versatile and valuable feedstock.

      Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine all the people from the future who might want to use that barrel of oil you use every six or eight fills for agricultural chemicals or plastics or pharmaceuticals lined up in front of NYMEX with buckos in their hands to purchase oil for sequestration until they will live.

      How much do you think that bbl of light Arabian you burned in your Prius would be worth? Ten large? A hundred? A THOUSAND?

      Whatever, it’s way more than we’re paying, because those people aren’t here. And if we don’t get our collective act together, they might not ever be.

      Oh, and to the “Eeewwww, it’s not organic!” chorus I say “Nope. It’s not. Foul stuff, definitely.”

      But using it for the many products into which it can be relatively easily transformed has improved billions of lives.

      We ought to take a VERY DEEP breath and dedicate the rest of the fairly easily recoverable oil to such chemical processes and to the creation of a renewable energy infrastructure. If we don’t do it pretty damn soon there won’t be enough left to power the technology necessary to create it.

      And that my friends is a one way trip back to animal power.

  8. I was up in Richmond, BC, recently, and noticed gasoline priced at $1.15 – 1.20 per liter. That seemed very high, so I didn’t buy any. Converting that $1.15 into gallons and US dollars comes out to $4.30 per gallon.

    I noticed plenty of cars on the local roads. All the parking lots along No. 3 Road, where many of the wonderful Asian eateries are located, all seemed full of cars.

    Canadians have adapted to expensive gasoline, and I expect we can too (no, I’m not ADVOCATING that). State gasoline taxes have a lot of catching up to do before they will yield revenues equivalent to gas taxes of the 1960’s.

    1. That is nothing – I spent some time in Ankara, Turkey in 2007 – 2008 and fuel there cost about $6-8 USD per gallon. The roads there were quite full – although so were the buses. Per wikipedia, diesel was going for $9.58 USD per gallon as of Dec 2010. Locals suggested to me that VAT plus fuel tax amounted to something like $60% of the pump price, but I have no citation for that. Apparently Turks have gotten used to high fuel prices too, at least those who clog the streets have.

      An interesting tidbit – someone told me companies over a certain size have to provide their employees with lunch and transportation to and from work. Most of them contract out for small Dolmuş fleets that employees can take for free to and from work.

  9. I’m hoping high gas prices will fuel speculation in all the hydrogen stocks I now own and pay for my retirement as GenXers won’t want to fund my Social Security.

    So…go sky high, gas taxes!

    1. Free investment advice, hydrogen is a *bad* bet. It’s not naturally occurring so it’s merely an intermediate fuel — and it has absolutely terrible characteristics for an intermediate fuel (explosive, hard to store, low energy density, hard to transport), unlike gasoline, diesel, ethanol, or electricity. For an intermediate I expect electricity or some variant thereof to be the main way forward; for initial generation, it’s going to be solar, mostly, but solar tech is changing VERY VERY FAST.

  10. I’ve always wondered why we tax gas on a % per gallon basis instead of on a % per cost basis. If we taxed it on a per cost basis then we would not need to adjust the gas tax for inflation because it would be self adjusting. As the cost of gas rises and the quantity of gas sold goes down, it would also hopefully even out.

  11. Sorry – but can we bring back an “Immodest proposal” and support a “property tax” (or luxury tax) on vehicles that have higher value? It is RIDICULOUS that in this state we charge the same ‘tax’ (i.e. licence fees) for a vehicle 40 years old – or massively less environmentally restrictive – than a newer/more efficient vehicle. THANK YOU [ad hom] EYEMAN AND YOUR [ad hom] FOLLOWERS.

      1. Standard left wing ignoring simple economics?

        If you increase fuel charges then companies that rely on deliveries (food, water, cement, wood, etc) are all going to increase prices to offset the added expense. Guess who that added charge gets passed on to?

        I am actually very pro transit, but to think you can just tax people out of cars is foolish. You cannot deliver produce to a grocery store on a light rail car. A home appraisal cannot operate a profitable business via transit. Cement to build dense housing foundations cannot be delivered on a bus.

        Adding transit to give commuters options is great, but to simply think you can kill off oil dependency via taxes is just plain foolish.

      2. Standard right wing ignoring simple economics?

        Raising taxes on fuel penalizes fuel-intensive companies and industries* in favor of more efficient companies and industries. Houses will be built more densely. Some people who would be home appraisers will go into other jobs. Ordinary people will buy fewer Hummers and more compact cars. Delivery companies will use more efficient vans and trucks. Life will go on with a mix of activities less tilted towards fuel consumption — a far better mix in the long one.

        Gas taxes in this country are absurdly low compared to most of the developed world. I’ve heard the grinding halt theory before and I’m unmoved.

        * Not including farming, which receives tax breaks on fuel in most places.

      3. To sum it up, Bruce is dead on. You think your gas tax is high? Try Ireland’s and it’s slated to increase heavily in the next budget. And, might I add, thank God that it will. Keep up the pain at the pump, consumers will buckle to the pressure.

      4. Yeah, Ireland’s economy is just peachy. I’m sure increased taxes will help a lot. Then again, maybe an increased gas tax won’t have that much of an effect since Ireland is less than half the size of Washington State and their roads are total crap. Think riding a bike in Bellevue is bad; try in Ireland sometime (no thank you, never again). You’re right about one thing, “consumers will buckle to the pressure.”

      5. Bernie:

        The IMF/EU deal is disgusting to the say the least. It was never needed. But, Fianna Fáil (now being booted out of Government today) chose to take loans off the banks for free and guarantee the solvency of them borrowing 100s of billions needlessly. Most of the banks were bankrolled by EU investors. Instead of letting them go bankrupt or nationalising them, they decided to give money incrementally saying that they needed more and then more and then more and then more…You get the idea. Eejits to say the least. If you discount this though, the Exchequer would be able to have enough revenues to pay for normal government services with minimal cut backs. But no, FF decided to destroy the economy instead. Don’t get me started on Euro…

        Also, unemployment is 13% whereas the real number in the US is closer 20%. People here all get near-free healthcare, welfare, and other benefits. If anyone is hurting, it’s more the US than Ireland.

        I’ll agree that roads are bad. But that’s because most are rural, drivers are bad (1/3 without drivers permits), streets in towns and cities are not able to be enlarged due to buildings and historic structures…Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad for bicyclists. But even being a pedestrian like me can be frightful at times. It’s a cultural thing, not something that Euros can solve. There are more than plentiful (and wasteful) motorways, relief roads, and N roads in the country.

  12. So your position is that companies operating today all have excess capital set aside for upgrades to “more fuel efficient” vehicles? Do those vehicles no longer require gasoline?

    No one will need home appraisers anymore? What about joe college kid working his way through school delivering pizza?

    Houses will be built more densely? Where exactly? And what about already existing housing?

    This is the thing you don’t seem to understand, just because you can live downtown and walk to your job does not mean that everyone can. You can’t just tax behavior out of people and expect it to be sustainable.

    I am all for weaning American society off of oil dependency, but this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

    1. Indeed, it will be a marathon and not a sprint. Perhaps you should read my comment a little more carefully and think more before you write, rather than sprinting through the process and spouting off nonsense.

      I assure you that in my vision for the future, homes will still be appraised and pizza will still be delivered. Market price fluctuations, long-term and short-term, happen around the world all the time and companies and individuals adapt to them; most of these fluctuations are beyond the control of governments, and nobody panics about it.

      I can’t tell you exactly how every single thing will play out: one person might move closer to a light rail line and give up their car; another might trade in their truck for a compact car; a handyman may require a truck for their work and either absorb the hit to their discretionary spending or pass it on in their rates; a young person might pay their way through college by bartending rather than driving pies around.

      I know for a fact this kind of economy can work because I grew up in the UK, where petrol prices haven’t been below $4/gal in my lifetime, back when Americans were breaking down in hysterics over $2/gal gas.

      All of your questions are either straw men, or questions that could be resolved with a moment’s reflection based on what I’ve said above.

    2. “So your position is that companies operating today all have excess capital set aside for upgrades to “more fuel efficient” vehicles?”

      Companies upgrade and replace their fleets all the time. Vehicles don’t last forever. There’s a reason Ford has finally started to sell the more efficient Transit Van over here.

      Normal market fluctuations affect the price of gasoline to a much greater extent than any tax. In the past 3 months the average price has gone up more than what the current gas tax is, has the economy ground to a halt because of it? It would behoove any company or worker that heavily depends on a vehicle to upgrade to a more efficient model regardless of the tax on gasoline.

      1. Single-family housing stock turns over regularly, too. The knots people tie themselves into over gas taxes just boggle my mind.

      2. And yes, seeing tranny vans driving around Seattle in the rain makes me think of nothing more than England.

    3. Electric delivery trucks are already available. Smart businesses will thrive, stupid ones will go to the wall.

      That’s the free market for you. The alternative is to issue a command-and-control order and force businesses to buy electric cars.

      This is the thing you don’t understand. You can just tax behavior out of people and expect it to be sustainable, up to a certain level. Increases in the cigarette tax routinely cause the rate of smoking to drop, every single time. It just works. This really is basic taxation economics.

      With gas taxes we are nowhere near the point when taxation will cause “nothing but pain”, as proven by the much higher gas taxes in the rest of the developed world. There *is* such a point, but we’re nowhere near it.

  13. My understanding is that an electric car still requires fossil fuel…that is, to generate the electricity! Plus, Martin, the state and others are building “infrastructure” in the form of electric-charging stations along I-5, at least much of which is grant-funded, i.e. we’re all paying for it. At any rate, electric cars put wear and tear on a road the same as an equal gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, etc. car, so why should they get special treatment? It’s akin to giving a tax break for a certain behavior, the assumption being that, without the tax break, the purchase wouldn’t happen. Not too dissimilarly, the purchase of studded tires should be taxed for the wear and tear their use imposes on our highways.

    1. The wear and tear on roads from an electric car is trivial compared due to the extra wear and tear from a normal car with studs vs normal winter tires. Those tires should definitely carry a surcharge. But the number of people driving around with studs is vastly greater than the number of electric cars on the road in the next decade. We can figure out how to tax electric cars when there are a million of them on the road.

      Finally, the bulk of our electricity in the northwest comes from hydro. I forget the numbers, but I think only a few percent than coal. Even if a bunch of it came from coal, it’s still, on net, more environmentally friendly to use an electric car for urban driving at least rather than gas or diesel.

    2. Some 95% of the northwest’s electricity is hydro. Basically, we use hydro except on the very coldest and hottest days when we have to supplement it with fossil fuels. But if there’s a large increase in power use due to electric cars (or public transport for that matter), it won’t come from hydro. There are no places left to build dams without endangering salmon even further. Unless we import BC Hydro power, perhaps.

      Also, thank your friendly aluminium plants. They get power at a discount rate in exchange for shutting down on peak-demand days.

      1. In most parts of the country, there is wasted energy at night because power plants can’t power up and down quickly.

        Hydro can to *some* extent, but not that much. You can actually store up nighttime energy for the daytime, but only with certain plant designs. How much pumped storage do you have in the Northwest? Not that much I suspect.

        Does the Northwest produce exactly the power needed during off-peak times, or is there an excess as there is in practically every other system?

        This is the classic argument for electric cars requiring no additional power plants, by the way.

        Of course *everything* depends on increasing efficiency; if we simply replaced gasoline cars with electric cars one-for-one we *would* end up with a massive, unmanagable increase in power demand.

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