Final Inspection

Paying to Fill the Potholes on the Oregon Trail

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“The state is worried that with cars getting better and better mileage, it’ll collect less in fuel taxes to take care of the roads and bridges,” Nance tells husband Peter as she explains Oregon’s pay-per-mile road-funding scheme.

Peter and Nance are relaxing in their Craftsman bungalow in Mellow Heights, OR. Nance is checking her iPhone 7 beta, a gift from her brother employed at Apple, which will launch the 7 in a couple of months to make the iPhone 6 obsolete. (Apple also has an 8 prototype and is starting on a 9.)

“Peter, where do we get a GPS transponder installed in our 500?”

“You mean the Cinquecento. And why would we need a GPS transponder?”

“For OReGO.”

“What’s that?”

“It says here the state Transportation Department is worried that with cars getting better and better mileage, it’ll collect less in fuel taxes to take care of the roads and bridges. OReGO is supposed to help make up the difference.”

“How?”

“You get this GPS transponder, or they tweak the electronics already in the car, and it tracks how many miles you’ve driven. The Transportation Department gets its money by charging you 1 ½ cents a mile and then figures out how much fuel tax you’re paying. What’s the 500 get, 35 miles a gallon? And we drive, what, about 1,000 miles a month?”

“Yes. I’m so ashamed. And it’s a Cinquecento.”

“OK, this OReGO calculator says at 1 ½ cents for 1,000 miles the state would charge us $15 a month. Right now we pay $8.57. If our car got less than 20 miles a gallon we’d be paying more in fuel tax than the $15 charge so we’d get a tax credit or a rebate.”

“When do they start charging us?”

“They’re not. We have to sign up. This OReGO thing is limited to 5,000 vehicles when it starts July 1. Oh, and it’s voluntary. They call the volunteers ‘pioneers.’”

“Voluntary? And they want us to pay them $6.43 a month on top of the fuel tax we pay? This sounds like volunteering to pay taxes.”

“It’s only fair, Peter! The state says people like us with cars that get really good mileage are buying less gas in the first place, so that’s how we come out ahead. And the, uh, Fiat uses the same roads and bridges as your father’s ’98 Town Car that weighs two tons and gets half the mileage!”

“Yeah, so he’s paying way more in fuel taxes than we are! And he’s gonna get a tax credit, not us! And besides, I don’t want some satellite watching where I’m going! Fight the power!”

“A lot of people they polled said that. But they’re only keeping track of how far you drive, not where you go. They even say they’ll destroy all the tracking records after 30 days.”

“Nance, I know Oregon is as blue as it gets and I’m no Tea Partier, but I can’t get my head around being billed for having a car that gets 35 miles a gallon.”

“Peter, the roads and bridges need to be taken care of, but you know politicians are scared to death of raising taxes to do it. That’s why the Legislature in Michigan dumped it on the voters to decide whether to raise money for the roads by raising the sales tax. Yes or no, they’re off the hook.”

“I thought we were reducing our carbon footprint when we traded the Corolla for the Cinquecento.”  

“You don’t get it. They can lay people off when they run out of money, but they can’t just close down the roads and bridges. You really disappoint me, Peter! You’re just like so many people in this country! If you don’t get something for nothing, you whine! But you’ll surely whine when our car disappears into a pothole or a bridge collapses out from under it! You know what they say? Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die!”

“Nance, let’s not fight. Let’s trade in the Cinquecento for a Nissan Leaf. Then we wouldn’t be paying any fuel taxes at all and we’d get around this whole thing.”

“Well, they still want to track electric-vehicle owners and have them pay the 1 ½ cents a mile. I saw where this Michelle Godfrey from the Transportation Department said OReGO conducted focus groups and the EV owners ‘kind of got the fairness angle.’ Which you apparently don’t! Wouldn’t you feel less guilty about driving a Leaf down Sunflower Parkway and across the Jerry Garcia Memorial Bridge to the food co-op if you still paid to use them?”

“Uh, what if we just got bicycles? Or even better, just walked everywhere? Would we still have to pay this OReGO outfit?”

“No. Not now, anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

“My brother says Apple isn’t going to build cars after all, just really cool GPS-enabled bicycles. And for people who walk, they’re working on a GPS-enabled iPedometer.”

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