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Victoria follows South Australia and imposes electric car road tax (thedriven.io)
255 points by oxplot 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 378 comments





I'm not really sure there's a good answer here.

Fuel tax is 43 cents a litre. Australian cars right now avg about 13.1 litres per 100km. So you're looking at ~$5.6 per 100km for fuel tax.

This tax is adding $2.5 tax per 100km for electric.

Right now, EVs are absolutely creating an regressive tax situation with regards to fuel. Those who can afford to buy newer, efficient cars can usually save money on tax over those who can't. For electric, it was worse - because they do tend to be more expensive to purchase up front, and they paid no fuel tax at all.

And frankly, infrastructure is expensive, and governments need to plan on continuing to maintain it.

That said - I think the only real answer here is a more thorough overhaul of how you tax road usage. Perhaps it's time to ditch the fuel excise tax entirely, and tax all drivers based on (vehicle weight * kms driven * some constant).

Encourage drivers to move to lighter vehicles which cause less wear and tear on the road, and drop the disparity between fuel and electric. They both use the same tires.


I read somewhere that road damage caused by vehicles is not linear with weight. Heavy vehicles do much more damage. I can't cite a source, but I recall an exponent between 3 and 4 on the leading term. With that in mind, everything but heavy freight is basically negligible. And then it's generally for businesses where privacy isn't so much of an issue.

Wikipedia says damage is proportional to axle weight to the 4th power: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_weight#cite_ref-13

I remember my dad telling me that when I was in my late teens. That it’s the fourth power startled me.

To give an idea of what this means:

For a 50 tonne semi-trailer with five axles, (⁵⁰⁄₅)⁴ = 10,000 units of damage.

2 tonne vehicle with two axles, 1 unit of damage.

That one truck, only 25 times as heavy as a pretty heavy car, is doing 10,000 times as much damage to the road.

Thus indeed if you have basically any heavy freight at all on a road, the rest is negligible.


The last time this was posted I dug in to this and it appeared as though 2 vs 4 tires per axle was not tested, in the original or follow up paper usually referenced. They were testing trucks vs trucks with the same axle type, but different numbers of axles (hence axle weight instead of vehicle weight).

It could be that four tires on a truck axle are much more effective at spreading the weight than two car tires. Or it could be that it's not much better, as the forces are still placed on a relatively small area of asphalt.

How this makes cars and trucks compare is, as far as I could understand from the literature when I dug in to it, an untested open question.

There could be a 10,000 factor difference. Or if two tires at each end are spreading the weight over 2x the surface area and you assume that matters, then you have to divide that 10,000 by 2^4 and it's now only 625x as damaging.

I suspect the reason nobody cares enough to test this is that it would still be a gap large enough to make cars insignificant.


FWIW, if we assume it's based on tire weight, a 50-tonne 18-wheeler actually does (50/9)^4 ≈ 952.6 times as much damage, not 625.

> I suspect the reason nobody cares enough to test this is that it would still be a gap large enough to make cars insignificant.

That seems likely, yes.


Right, because you don't double up the two front wheels which are used for steering. I suspect that more weight is put on the rear and trailer axles than the front as well, and that two tires in close proximity aren't as good as two tires separated by greater distance. So even 1000x is probably optimistic.

My main point though is just that the study happened to use truck axles as a measurement and that can't blindly be substituted for car axles. The back of the napkin math is just there to show the difference it can potentially make.


Also, truck tires are also much larger (than an average passenger car) and have a larger contact area.

Passenger off-road vehicles with knobby tires might be harder on roads too in a different way than weight.


I actually thought this was the case but a quick search indicated about twelve inches wide for both. Was I missing something?

It would make a significant difference to the calculations, eg 50% wider tires would mean dividing truck severity by 5.


The 4th power claim is alarming, yes. But are we focused too much on road wear and not enough on the money spent to increase the capacity of roads? My gut says that widening a road is at least an order of magnitude more expensive than maintaining one, so whatever we can do to reduce the number of cars is more worthy of focus than just getting all the trucks off the road.

100 kg bicycle (including rider), 0.00000625 units of damage.

So, getting people out of their cars onto bicycles cuts road maintenance cost.

Because of that, building bike lanes/paths can be cheaper than not building them.

(And 50 tonne trucks are very rare on most city roads, I hope)


A fuel truck that refuels most gas stations in the US is something like 40 tonnes so it’s not rare at all.

As long as the roads are built to sustain those trucks the cars are negligible. So until cars are the big wear item, moving people to bikes is pointless from a road wear perspective.


i love bikes and there are many reasons to get people on them, but assuming the 4th power claim is correct you are right. road damage isn’t a reason. math checks out.

How many car miles per large truck mile is driven?

Looks like about 10x car miles per truck mile. So it's a rounding error in terms of road damage, it's trucks by a landslide.

https://www.bts.gov/content/us-vehicle-miles


It’s a nice real world example of big O :)

There is one issue though. Bike lanes tend to require better road conditions for people to want to use them. Roads do degrade over time due to weather. This means that the difference between a vehicle at x weight vs no vehicle at all will be negligible. I don't know what the x is though.

the vast majority of road degredation isn't due to weather, its due to weight wear. As heavy vehicles travel down the road, they create a "ripple" on the road surface in front of the axle. You can create a similar effect if you run your hand across a loose sheet on top of your bed (you will see the wrinkle in the sheet in front if your hand). This bending is the method of road wear that causes like 99% of the maintenance need.

If that were the case, then roads would be almost equally bad everywhere regardless of the weather.

As a Michigander, the dictionary does not contain words to express how strongly I disagree with that implication.


Weather alone does very little. Weather + road ware makes things dramatically worse much faster. You can see this effect with private driveways in the north vs public roads in the south assuming similar construction.

As someone who migrated to upstate new york from Florida, I disagree. People here are constantly repaving, repairing, and resurfacing their driveways and sidewalks. While you need an initialization crack, that can come from a host of issues other than heavy vehicles including thermal cycling and initial defects. I will note that the asphalt and concrete construction may be different in the south vs. the north, but there is much much more driveway repair up here than there was in Florida.

As a pedantic side note, this is why your batteries die, the copper leads begins to fatigue and fracture due to stresses from thermal cycling.


No, the batteries "die" because cold weather requires more energy to start the car and batteries are far less effective when cold. (Physically they die either from grid corrosion increasing resistance so they can't provide enough current to start or the plates shedding active material to the point where they can't hold enough charge). There is normally not any copper in a standard car starter battery.

Copper? I thought batteries were primarily lead.

Northern roads are often (but not always) designed with more substantial shoulders to mitigate frost heaving on the edges of the road bed and plow damage.

While I may disagree with GP about the exact method of wear, regional differences are mostly due to construction not weather or wear. Roads ~50km west of us look almost new, while ours usually develop potholes or at minimum cracks, within a year. It's a different country, so different standards.

Frost heaving is also a significant contributor to road wear in winter areas.

Confirmation bias to the fourth power. A person just told you that an average truck of which you see plenty on the roads, does a couple thousand times the damage of a car and your response is: "Let's get all the cars of the road because a bicycle does no damage at all compared to cars"

Who says all? I’m just pointing out that there can be economic incentives for improving bicycle infrastructure.

That isn’t an original idea. See for example https://www.vabike.org/vehicle-weight-and-road-damage/ (2009)

Also, if in Google “50 ton 5-axle truck” I get trucks that I rarely see on roads in Europe. Reading https://www.jpisla.es/resources/Download+JPIsla+20130106+Pes..., that’s because t most countries don’t allow them on roads.


A quick search suggests that a semi truck without trailer weighs between 10 and 25 tons[0]. Those are usually 3-axle, so that's between about 125 and 4800 units of damage. That's still a massive amount when compared to the 1 unit of damage for a sedan.

Add an empty trailer and you get 35 tons (5 axles, 2400 units of damage). US max allowed is 80 tons, for a whopping 65,536 units of damage.

I don't know how full they are, but I see 5-axle tractor-trailers on highways all the time in the US, and also locally doing last-mile deliveries to larger businesses like supermarkets and home improvement stores.

I guess the differences in allowed weights might account for why US roads are often in worse shape than many in Europe, though I assume vastly different maintenance schedules play a large part as well.

[0] https://www.tcsfuel.com/blog/truck-weight-classification/


No, a ton is 2000 lbs or 1000kg, you’re using ton as 1000 lbs.

Max US ordinary large truck loading is 80k lbs, or 40 tons.

(Source, I trained as a civil engineer. Units in us practice were all over the place, but kip was generally the one that got used the most.)



Nowhere did they suggest that they want to get rid of all cars ever.

The principle that shifting traffic from cars to bikes saves money for the government is a sound one. There'll always be a need for cars for some things -- probably not gonna have ambulance bikes, and of course deliveries for anything big needs a car/truck -- but you can certainly reduce the need. Especially with ebikes making biking more convenient and accessible.


I'll keep my car thanks

Americans moving to Tokyo largely give up cars and switch to public transport and walking. This isn't because there's a welcome committee of Japanese people shaming them out of driving; it's because driving works less well there, and public transit much better.

The point isn't to individually shame unwilling people out of their cars. The point is to make biking a real, viable transportation mode for short/medium distance trips for most people in urban or suburban areas. It's entirely possible to do this with the right infrastructure.

Once you do that, people will choose biking of their own accord, because it makes sense.


Most cyclists are also drivers, so yeah, I'd expect you to. Noone was telling you to get rid of your car.

But not every journey needs to be done by car.


I noticed while driving to Tahoe the last time that the right lane on the mountain roads was absolutely trashed in the tire path. I assume this is mostly due to chain usage, but it was incredibly more present in the right lane where semis drive.

And, by implication, they're a massively higher contributor to local pollution. I was surprised to learn that most road pollution is no longer generated by tailpipes, but by the grinding of brake, tire, and road into dust through friction. Vehicle weight has an outsized effect there too.

Wow, I always knew the semis are ruining roads but this 10k factor just blew me away, crazy! Thanks for a great post.

> Thus indeed if you have basically any heavy freight at all on a road, the rest is negligible.

There's many more passenger cars than freight trucks on the roads.

It doesn't change the math all that much, but the 1-to-1 comparisons in the thread didn't account for this factor.


> Thus indeed if you have basically any heavy freight at all on a road, the rest is negligible.

Racetracks don't carry freight, but the surface does goes bad in a couple decades.


Except we need trucks. We don’t need private cars.

A very substantial portion of truck freight in countries like Australia and the USA is inter-city—almost all, for larger semi-trailers and B-doubles. But for inter-city freight, rail is much cheaper than road, once you account for all costs, rather than allowing society and passenger cars to subsidise the roads for trucks.

We need transportation networks for goods. Rail is at least one alternative.

Maybe you don't, don't assume to know my needs

That is insane. I will remember this for life now.

Road damage isn't the only issue with weight though.

There's safety, exhaust emissions, tyre and brake particles, noise, etc. I'm sure some of them don't have a linear relationship either.

One of the biggest upsides to taxing vehicle weight could be to counter purchasing decisions that have shifted to larger vehicles that no longer comfortably fit in parking spaces but ride better over ridiculous speed bumps and give drivers literally the opportunity to look down on others.

Taxing vehicle weight also doesn't have the privacy implications that taxing miles driven beyond fuel consumption does. It's always struck me as one of the more sensible aspects to tax.

Add lightness, as I believe Colin Chapman put it.


This entire thread is flawed in two fundamental ways:

1) The primary concern here is per capita road damage. If that's agreed, why is the conversation not about improving the resiliency of roads?

2) Why would the adoption of new technology automatically subject you to draconian taxes that have nothing to do with that new technology? I understand infrastructure needs to be paid for, but this is simply a cash-grab by politicians. If people started jogging to destinations rather than use cars, would it be acceptable for the government to charge a "jogging transportation tax"?


This is true, but some portion of road maintenance costs is independent from vehicle-caused wear-and-tear on the actual road surface. You would want this portion to be paid also by standard, non-commercial vehicles since these users are clearly receiving some value from the existence of a well-maintained road.

Everybody is receiving benefits from well maintained roads, just like everyone is receiving benefits from schools. Why special taxes for users unless you want to discourage use? Just pay for maintenance from the general budget.

If you pay for maintenance from the general budget, you are allowing shipping companies (for example) to externalize cost that they incur on society.

This is generally a bad thing, but very concretely it led to road traffic growing much faster than rail traffic (or canal ship traffic) even in countries with a very dense rail network.


This, and it also subsidizes people’s decisions to live far away from where they work and commute by car every day. There was a time when I think that would have been seen as a public good, and thus people were ok with that. Now is not that time.

Comparing this with free public education, by not charging user fees to attend school, we are subsidizing (a) having children, and (b) educating them at the expense of the childless and I guess people who don’t want to educate their kids. We subsidize those because we believe they are truly public goods that are better for everyone in the long run. Encouraging people to drive more and ship more things by truck is not necessarily better for everyone.


>"This, and it also subsidizes people’s decisions to live far away from where they work and commute by car every day."

Hence greatly increasing chances of finding better or any employment and at least partially reducing pressure employers can come up with.

  ...
  You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
  Another day older and deeper in debt
  Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
  I owe my soul to the company store 
  ...

That’s an interesting take. I mostly think of it in terms of urban sprawl - if it weren’t for the massive multi-lane freeways leading out to the countryside, people would live in higher-density housing close to city centers and transit hubs, and businesses would locate there as well. You’d still have a lot of choice about where to work, you’d just get there by bike, or train, or bus, or on foot. That’s how it is in Japan, Korea and most places in Europe I’ve been.

>"That’s how it is in Japan, Korea and most places in Europe I’ve been."

To each their own.


Most public schools I have been a part of charge "optional" fees. There seems to be constant fund-raising for both extracurricular activities and general school funds as well as requests from students for classroom supplies. The bulk of the funding comes from the school taxes.

Definitely, the first thing we heard when our kid started in pubic school was “public school is not free,” meaning that the parent committee expects lots of donations to offer enrichment.

That said, you should listen to the podcast “Nice White Parents.” It points out that this model of underfunding the schools and making up for it with donations is essentially letting wealthy families buy their way out of the problem while leaving disadvantaged students behind.


Public education is not “free”, we pay for it with out taxes. And right now we are paying, and our children are not getting an education...

In a sense, every company externalizes some costs to society. At the same time, society tends to benefit from their existence more than just the service they provide. It would be very difficult to try to balance out those numbers.

Trade and economy are vital for a modern society though. If costs were instead born by the shipping companies they'd be put into the price of goods sold.

I can't help but see this as a regressive use tax in many ways, since it'll likely apply to lower value items at a higher proportion which is what poorer people would be buying. The end user pays in either case, but doing it through taxation policy allows for a measured approach.


It’s a little bit regressive as you mention, but forcing the users to pay also encourages businesses to find ways to economize and thus minimize the impact of the tax on their customers. It’s also less regressive to pass along a small amount of tax in the cost of items (the portion of the cost of most things we buy made up by transportation costs is very small, and the tax is a small portion of that), than it is to burden car-less poor people with the cost of building roads that they don’t drive on.

That actually sounds sensible so maybe you're right.

Here in Sydney we just opened a tolled tunnel, and to ease congestion up above on the older commuter road all trucks must use this tunnel. I don't know all the factors but it sounds like the best option for the people, they have a choice and trucks pay their way.


Externalizing the cost of using a national transportation network. I don’t think there is any citizen who doesn’t benefit from a national transportation network. How else do they get the food they buy, clothes they wear, etc?

Because everyone benefits more from roads that are less congested.

If everyone rode bikes or the bus 90% of the time, there would be mostly empty roads in the 10% of time that they do use a car.

If you had to pay a significant price per km in congested areas, you'd probably drive less, but it would be a nicer experience when you do drive.


Paying for things in more detail has many advantages, including penalizing waste and rewarding better ideas. An exception is insurance, where you try to generalize the costs of “bad luck”.

Because you want to discourage use.

But now you're making a statement which is too general.

There is no benefit to discouraging use of highways at night, or uncongested suburban/rural roads. The thing you really want to prevent is congestion.

And even that is not inherently best solved through punitive fees. If you can reduce congestion by e.g. building more housing near where people work so they don't have to commute as far, that's preferable to levying fees the drivers can't avoid because a viable alternative to a long commute isn't actually available.

Sometimes turning a four lane road into a six lane road really does resolve the congestion, even accounting for the increase in use that comes from the reduction in congestion. And then you don't gain anything by discouraging use there.

The number of cases where you actually want to discourage use is very small, to the point that they may not even really exist, given that most uses are productive (and already have to overcome the inherent cost in fuel and time). The best case for it would be something like Manhattan during rush hour, but even there you might be better off to use the carrot instead of the stick and e.g. stop charging fees for use of the subway.


I don’t have good citations handy, but it’s generally accepted that the construction of the American interstate freeway system after WWII was the primary enabler of the mass exodus of the white middle class to the suburbs, and the subsequent abandonment of people of color in inner cities for several generations.

Furthermore, continuing to build more travel lanes to alleviate congestion has been shown to simply lead to more traffic. It’s a circular problem.

We are finally seeing this turn around in a very painful way in Silicon Valley. There’s no longer political will, nor is there tax revenue, to keep expanding the highways. As a result, commute times have gone up dramatically. As a further result, over the past decade, I’ve watched previously undesirable near suburbs like Sunnyvale and Santa Clara be bid up dramatically in housing price as people have realized that spending 3 hours per day in their car isn’t worth having a giant house with a giant yard in the far south suburbs like Morgan Hill and Gilroy.


> I don’t have good citations handy, but it’s generally accepted that the construction of the American interstate freeway system after WWII was the primary enabler of the mass exodus of the white middle class to the suburbs, and the subsequent abandonment of people of color in inner cities for several generations.

This is like arguing against rope because it was the primary enabler of lynchings.

> Furthermore, continuing to build more travel lanes to alleviate congestion has been shown to simply lead to more traffic. It’s a circular problem.

It isn't. What those studies are showing is that congestion suppresses demand, so if you relieve some of the congestion, some of the demand comes back. So to relieve congestion you'd need enough lanes to carry not the existing level of traffic, but the amount there would be if there wasn't any congestion suppressing it.

This is clearly demonstrated in China where they build multi-lane highways to nowhere as a jobs program and then traffic does not magically appear to fill them.

The problem is that in some places, satisfying all of the demand by only increasing the number of travel lanes would require like twenty travel lanes, which isn't ideal. But that doesn't mean you can't reduce congestion there by adding travel lanes, only that you need other solutions there too. Add a travel lane or two but not ten, build more housing closer to businesses so people don't have to commute as far, stop charging user fees for mass transit etc. By doing these things together you can alleviate congestion without needing twenty lane highways.

> We are finally seeing this turn around in a very painful way in Silicon Valley.

The problem there is totally unambiguously not "insufficient highways" and is in fact "insufficient housing" which induces those long commutes for whoever can't afford the existing housing close to the city where the jobs are (and also outrageous housing costs for the housing that is, because nobody wants that commute). Build more housing.


The amount of NOx and CO2 emission is a direct product of use, and not (or hardly) congestion.

The world doesn't heat up slower if we manage to use roads 100% during nighttime too.

Same for wear and tear.


> The amount of NOx and CO2 emission is a direct product of use, and not (or hardly) congestion.

We're talking about electric vehicles which don't have that. That issue can obviously be solved for gasoline and diesel vehicles via fuel taxes (which encourage people to buy electric vehicles).

> Same for wear and tear.

As discussed, nearly all of the wear and tear is a result of large heavy vehicles and the amount caused by passenger vehicles is negligible.


> This is true, but some portion of road maintenance costs is independent from vehicle-caused wear-and-tear on the actual road surface.

Possible formula to account for all the variables:

annual tax = F * (A + [BC{D^E} ] )

A = constant for non-loading based degradation (frost heave, slope maintenance). Base tax

B = constant to scale the following terms

C = distance driven in km

D = axial weight

E = exponent to account for non-linear relationship of axial weight to road degradation

F = adjustment for usage (could adjust for anything - user type, income class, vehicle class, etc etc)


This is true, but some portion of road maintenance costs is independent from vehicle-caused wear-and-tear on the actual road surface.

A lot it is caused (around here anyway) by water permeating and expanding as it freezes.


Not much of that happens in Victoria, and even less in South Australia.

In South Australia we get temperature below zero maybe once every 10 years.

Victoria has some snowfields, but they are a relativity small area.

Bitumen damage from melting is a real issue though. See the pics on https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-05/melting-road-in-far-n...


In Australia, the heat melting the bitumen is infinitely more likely than water damage.

Road wear creates the variations that ice exacerbates.

A lot of road damage in some parts of the world is caused by nature itself, though. Even roads without any freight traffic get frost heaves.

But for Australia specifically (this article being about Australia), frost damage to roads is typically either non-existent or negligible. There aren’t many roads that are exposed to substantially freezing conditions often.

I have had bitumen melt onto my shoes in summer though.


Mountain highways I've traveled have substantially more damaged right lanes from all the semis.

I object to this being framed in terms of vehicle mass, because what counts most is mass/area = ground pressure. Many big fat tires distribute the weight.

It is also much more relevant in places with sub-zero nights, i.e. a thaw/frost cycle. In relatively warm places like Australia this effect does not occur. Roads are much cheaper per km than in places with snow/ice, even with heavy vehicles.


Is it known if this is purely a weight issue, or does weight distribution make a difference? If a large truck were equipped with twice as many tires at half the PSI, what difference would that make?

I’ve seen weight limit signs on certain roads, I wonder if instead they should be PSI limits?


I'd imagine a 20 tire truck of 1tonne roughly equals 5 4-tire cars of 200kg.

So that would mean the first still has to pay 5x the tax of the latter.


You can also sidestep the privacy issue there, because large electric vehicles are likely to need special chargers. (How many kW do you need to charge a 1MWh battery in a reasonable amount of time?) And then you can levy road tax on large trucks per kWh at the charging point in the traditional way without even having to track everywhere they go.

How much privacy concern is there to have your odometer reading recorded annually in places that already do safety inspections? I mean, I've driven an average of 3400 miles per year on my car. Violate my privacy as much as you like with that data.

There have been proposals to track the location of trucks at all times, presumably so that a truck that drives all over the country is paying road fees in the states where it's actually driving instead of to whatever other state it's registered in (which would presumably be the one with the lowest fees). Levying the fees at the charging point replicates the existing (imperfect but pretty good) model with fuel tax because you at least have to charge somewhere that you're actually driving that day, without the privacy implications of tracking the vehicle at all times.

This was one of the argued motivation for introducing the Platon system in Russia in addition to the fuel tax. It's an electronic toll system mandatory for trucks over 12 tons and costs every such truck ~5 USD cents per traveled km. Unfortunately it does not take into account current mass of a truck (probably because it's much harder to control and easier to cheat). Part of the proceedings goes to a federal fund for road maintenance, another one to the company (partially owned by an oligarch close to Putin) which has developed the system and currently maintenance it. This concession will work until 2027.

On an individual level perhaps so but probably not when you consider the number of cars vs the number of heavy transports.

Fourth power of the axle weight.

I think you misunderstand what the road tax (or any other tax) is for.

There are three main reasons for a tax to exist:

1. To bring revenue

2. To create incentive

3. Social justice (or illusion of it)

Revenue from a specific tax is almost never used for a specific purpose. All revenue goes into a large bin from which the government takes to finance everything.

Revenue from fuel/road tax is not used to finance building roads. Infrastructure is financed from budget or by private companies who then can impose tolls on road users.

Fuel tax (besides obvious goal of creating revenue) is there to create incentive to drive less and to drive more efficiently (using less fuel). This is not to preserve roads but rather to preserve capacity and environment.

I can only assume that tax on electric vehicles is as a response to increasing use of EVs. Initially, EVs were exempted from taxes to create incentive to use them more. Now that it is pretty clear EVs took off and will be widespread no matter what, some countries start to remove those exemptions to ensure continuing revenue stream.


I'm not sure how it works in your country, but in the US fuel taxes don't go to the general pot, they end up in a specific fund called the Highway Trust Fund that's specifically earmarked for transportation infrastructure and maintenance.

Even if it does, the amount of money allocated from the general fund toward transportation maintenance is surely lower than it would be if those fuel taxes were not there.

Unless an earmark pays 100% of the costs of something, the earmark is totally an illusion. Even if it does pay 100% of the costs, it is often mostly an illusion.

In practice, most earmarks fall into the former category, and thus are entirely about manipulating the public. Not that I'm necessarily objecting to manipulating the public.

===

worked example:

If fuel taxes bring in $100, which is spent on road maintenance, and then topped up by $40 of money from general revenue, that implies that the government thinks that $140 is the point at which marginal benefit drops below marginal cost. In other words, if there was no fuel tax, they'd probably still try to spend $140, or thereabouts. The earmark is entirely illusory.

If fuel taxes bring in $100, which is spent on road maintenance, and is not topped up, then that implies that the government thinks that the point at which marginal benefit drops below marginal cost is some number below $100. If there was no fuel tax, their spending on road maintenance would go down. Go down to what? Let us suppose that it would go down to $60. Then the fuel tax earmark is 40% reality, 60% illusion.


Yes, earmarking is smoke and mirrors.

The reality is, roads would be maintained the same way with or without earmarked tax revenue.


It’s worth pointing out that fuel taxes were sufficient to keep the US highway trust fund self-sufficient for over 50 years. Recently, there’s been a shortfall that has required infusions of cash from the general fund.

Exactly. It doesn't matter where a dollar comes from when it has to be spent anyway.

Think about it.

Scenario a) X dollars from fuel tax are revenue for federal budget. Federal budget decides whatever it wants to do with the money, but roads require Y dollars for maintenance.

Scenario b) X dollars are earmarked for road maintenance. Federal budget can't do anything else with the money but spent them on road maintenance. Roads require Y dollars for maintenance. X is covered from earmarked revenue, and the difference comes from federal budget.

Did ANYTHING change between scenarios? In both cases taxpayers paid X dollars of fuel tax and Y dollars for road maintenance.

Earmarking tax revenue for a cause that requires greater amount of money and would be covered anyway is just PR mechanism to placate people / opposing party. Opposing party might know it is just illusion but still needs to placate their own constituents.

The goal of this is to create another tax revenue stream without angering your voters. And so we complicate what is relatively simple so that general population thinks the tax is for their benefit. It still is but for a different reasons.


Per the article, in Australia the fuel excise does not go toward road maintenance, but instead goes into the general fund.

This is true, but the highway trust fund is not funded exclusively by fuel taxes, it's funded from the general fund

https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/what-highway-t...


It’s worth noting that for over 50 years, the trust fund was fully self-sufficient with no general fund contributions. There’s been a shortfall in recent years because Congress is reluctant to increase the gas tax. As fleet fuel economy continues to increase, the tax revenue per mile driven continues to fall.

And in the US, the overwhelming majority of road damage is done by long haul freight semi trucks, not electric or ICE cars.

I don’t see what difference it makes if certain taxes are earmarked for certain expenses. Any shortfall is made up by increasing taxes and/or increasing taxpayer debt, any surplus will result in less assistance from other taxes or get directed elsewhere.

Budgeting is often quite fungible and you can replace where to spend new money by replacing old money.

I would say that 60% of taxes might be raised for health and education this way.


and the article is specifically talking about australia, which doesn't have specific tax buckets for a purpose.

Gas taxes pay less than half of the costs of maintaining roads.

> Initially, EVs were exempted from taxes to create incentive to use them more. Now that it is pretty clear EVs took off and will be widespread no matter what, some countries start to remove those exemptions to ensure continuing revenue stream.

I suspect that EVs weren't exempted by design, but just slipped through the gap. Australian road tax is applied to petrol/gasoline/diesel. The number of EVs hasn't warranted changing this formula (the alternative being a tax on kms traveled). In Australia, EVs still haven't taken off (as there haven't been any incentives to buy them; in fact as they tend to be expensive, they often fall under the luxury car category and get taxed even more), so there are still very, very few on the road. It's very slowly changing, and this change is definitely looking into the next decade more that the next year, but still strikes me as odd timing - just when momentum is building to EVs, this will dull that momentum (at least without an incentive to _purchase_ an EV.


One of the simplest arguments against it to me is basically to look at the landscape. For example, in the US, ballpark 1% of cars are electric. Meanwhile, the flat federal fuel tax is not indexed to inflation & hasn't been increased in almost thirty years. Yet everyone is in this panic about how EVs are going to cause a huge revenue shortfall!? I'm not opposed to EVs paying their share, but something is rotten in Denmark.

Anyway, shifting fuel taxes onto tires might make sense. All cars use tires, no matter the fuel, it requires no odometer reading, and a tire has a designed application & load range which ought to translate reasonably well to anticipated road wear.


2 things. First, pretty sure it’s been discussed here previously(edit: and is down thread), but I believe the wear on the road is like the 4th power of the weight.[1] here’s a chart describing it. with that considered, I don’t think it makes sense to even really charge passenger vehicles in the US, when we have huge fleets of 80k pound big rigs on the road(and the limit is uncapped with overweight permits)—charge them.

Second, the problem with tires is that depending on what and where you drive you’ll use them considerably faster. I live a few miles down a very windy chip-sealed[2] road, that I have to drive down any time I go anywhere. As a result(best I can tell) my tires tend to go bald 10k-20k miles early. Chip seal is used because it is cheap, seems regressive that I’d be taxed at a higher rate for a poorer road.

[1] https://streets.mn/2016/07/07/chart-of-the-day-vehicle-weigh...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipseal


Who says you should tax directly based on wear anyway? The bigger scarcity is often traffic in any case. Some roads have higher costs than others. etc.

Maybe we want to lower transport costs by charging trucks less. Maybe we want to encourage electric car viability by charging them less. I mean, tax policies have outcomes. Doesn't it make sense to target outcomes we want?

Obviously the road needs to be paid for and fuel taxes won't work if people don't buy fuel. That said, I think it's inevitable that whatever comes next is a policy... encourage some stuff, discourage other stuff, benefit certain people/sectors and such. ATM, encouraging electric vehicle adoption with a fuel tax exemption doesn't seem crazy.

It does create a regressive dynamic, where new electrics are subsidized by legacy ICE. By the time that represents more than a rounding error the fuel tax deficit will be big enough that the tax system will be changing anyway.

A better approach is probably a time-of-purchase tax. =


Good thought, but that might incentivize not replacing worn tires

This is exactly right. You're in a sense taxing safety!

Yeah, thinking more you are right. The tax would be quite substantial too, and probably drive a large black market.

yeah, once we get to 25% adoption (or something) we can talk about how badly EVs are hurting fuel tax revenue. in the meantime, jack up the fuel tax in a planned, regular way, and let the market decide :)

Jack up tax and let the market decide? Those seem inconsistent.

That might be rational, but it’s highly unpopular with the 99% of people who don’t drive electric cars. This is virtue signaling,

Incentivising some behaviour is basically always unpopular with the group currently doing the opposite behaviour.

So you're saying the 1% of people driving electric cars should pay for the climate change caused by the 99% that are not?

The 99% of people who drive ICEs and can afford an EV should get one.

Many good things are unpopular. Shutting down coal mining operations is unpopular with miners. Staying at home to avoid spreading a disease is unpopular, but we have to do it anyway because it's important.

Switching to EVs is important for slowing down climate change, and should be incentived (incentivised?).

What those 2 Australian states did translates directly into accelerated Climate change and Coastal cities sinking.


If you make it too expensive to change tires, people will drive for much longer with worn out tires, risking lives.

> For electric, it was worse - because they do tend to be more expensive to purchase up front, and they paid no fuel tax at all

California was cutting $10,000 checks to rich people buying $80,000 sports cars called Teslas. You could be a solo driver in an HOV lane for a long period of time, in a part of the world where rich people's negative experience with the outside world is disproportionately traffic.

For every two Teslas worth of subsidies, for rich people who might actually drive very little, you could buy a poor person who actually needs a car a whole Prius.

> Encourage drivers to move to lighter vehicles which cause less wear and tear on the road

As other people said everyone benefits from roads. Cyclists still need food delivered to grocery stations in trucks. Parents still have their kids driven around in busses. Everyone needs construction vehicles to build more housing.

The vast majority of the value of roads is realized by commuters. It's not even just the long-ass trip some sucker makes commuting from his low cost community in the boonies. There are a dozen different trucks that need to go that same trip to wildly inefficiently provide him with services.

The most logical thing to do would be to tax surburban and rural residents at a state level, and sending that money back to cities. That lifestyle is so preposterously inefficient as an alternative to paying a landlord absolutely more but relatively less to live in a city. Suburban and rural dwellers just externalize their costs to the city people collecting their garbage, running their government, banks and hospitals, teaching their kids, training their police, firefighters, running their courtrooms, etc. - stuff they imagine is in "their" communities but is essentially welfare from vastly richer cities.


I just want to chime in to say that it's true everyone benefits from roads, but not everyone benefits from ever wider roads and huge traffic machines. Delivery trucks and ambulances and what have you do not need 8 lanes and clover junctions. Those things are built to accommodate suburban commuters.

Sounds like the logical thing to do is to heavily tax employers that place offices in cities and force people to commute to the same place as everyone else where there isn’t adequate housing.

Additionally, heavy taxes should be levied on the city dwellers that devastate nearby communities to externalize their water supplies, their power generation, their food growth, etc.

I think you’ll pretty quickly find that you can make whatever lame arguments you want how people should and shouldn’t live. Just tax the specific negative externality you want to reduce and move on. Don’t sit there and moralize about other lifestyles.


As a European, 13.1 l/100 km seems... insane. What's happening here?

I've lived both in France and Australia.

Australians love 4 wheels drive and bigger cars. In some cases it's justified for obvious reasons: rough environments with less infrastructure (bush, outback..). In other cases it is for softer reasons: a big camping culture, having a big car being a social status, towing your boat/jet ski etc.

Also a few other points to consider:

_ Australia enjoyed economic growth for a long time and Australians are rich.

_ Fuel is cheap. According to www.globalpetrolprices.com right now a liter of gasoline is 0.74 euros compared to 1.33 for France

_ The road infrastructure is more favourable for big cars than in Europe (big/plenty parking spots in most towns in Australia).


It’s funny: as an Australian that has visited the USA a couple of times (and never been to Europe), I’d repeat half of your points but for America rather than Australia. Some Australians certainly have large vehicles without good cause, but that number is nowhere near as big as in America. (Notwithstanding this, my Dad and I have discussed the concept of a ban or extreme tax on owning big vehicles unless you can justify why you need them (e.g. tradie or large family), with country dwellers immediately exempt for convenience.) And fuel is way cheaper in the USA than in Australia.

You need to go to Europe to see the little cars then.

Australia has half price petrol to Europe and you see this in both car size and engine size.

Also I have read (newspaper so who knows) that Australia allows far more fuel inefficient cars than Europe.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-11/australians-car-not-a...

But equally we have a lower percentage of diesel cars which is great for not dying

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170918093337.h...


I don't see why a large family would be an excuse. You need a large vehicle because you chose to need a large vehicle?

A large family creates many future taxpayers. The state has an interest in subsidizing or at least not discouraging the creation of large families

That seems like an oversimplification. Rural states receive more in benefits than they pay in federal tax. Large families by necessity are going to favor rural areas and states. It is not clear to me how a large family is a net tax benefit, there are too many other factors to consider.

Having more people pay tax does not mean there is a net increase in tax collected.


> It is not clear to me how a large family is a net tax benefit

Some of the children from a large rural families will move to cities and make careers that pay lots of taxes. Cities almost always have lower birthrates than countryside.


Yes, we need children. That's not a question. The question is if a single couple needs to produce so many children they drive a vehicle so massive is earns tax breaks.

In this context, I assume a "large family" is 3 or 4 children (a 5 seat sedan cannot physically, legally fit 4 children and two parents, and due to the size of modern carseats it can be dicey or impossible to fit 3 of them in compact or midsize sedans even for a 3-child family).

Even just maintaining replacement rate fertility requires an average of 2.1 children TFR, which means some families would need to have 3 or 4 children to get there since other families will have only 2 or 1 child.


In France, you end up paying a lower tax on your vehicle the more children you have, so a family with four children might pay the same taxes on a large diesel as a childless couple with a tiny gas car. I was trying to register my 3-cylinder 1.0 liter vehicle, just to find out I’d have to pay 1500 Euro tax for my gas guzzler. Ugh.

Most things I need, I need because I chose to need them.

> towing your boat/jet ski etc.

A 180-200 BHP sedan can tow a trailer quite easily. You don't need a big SUV for that.


Spotted the "Victoria on the move" plates struggling to accelerate uphill in Queensland on a single lane road delaying the locals trip by an hour to get milk.

horsepower is rarely the limiting factor for a sedan's towing capacity. a sedan's chassis is only designed to withstand accelerating and stopping its own weight (plus a margin for safety and internal cargo of a reasonable mass). you could probably get away with towing a jetski with a typical sedan, but anything much heavier than that risks bending the chassis. even if a car can tow something without deforming itself, the change in weight distribution can make for a very unsafe situation.

I've seen SOOOO many sedans and station wagons pulling trailers here in Europe. The Dutch are especially fond of camping with their trailers and I rarely see any of them using SUVs or anything bigger.

What you're saying is likely not true.


Absolutely. My ex used to drive on the autobahn using an A3 to tow almost 750kg of horse float and horse. The trailer has its own brakes. As long as you don’t drive car and trailer straight off a curb it’s not bending anything.

Here in Australia and New Zealand we regularly tow boats with Aussie sedans like a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore e.g. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ford_Falcon_XR8_Ute_...


13.1 includes buses and trucks. Actual for passenger vehicles is 10.6.

https://www.bitre.gov.au/sites/default/files/is_091.pdf:

“The average rate of fuel consumption across all Australian vehicles in 2016 was 13.1 l/100km. However, this includes buses and trucks which are overwhelmingly used for business purposes. Given that this study is focused on the vehicle costs of Australian households (and not businesses), Figure 1 presents the average rate of fuel consumption for the three types of vehicles which have significant private use, namely passenger vehicles, motorcycles and light commercial vehicles. Motorcycles are relatively fuel efficient using 5.6 litres of fuel per 100 km travelled in 2016, compared to 10.6 l/100km for passenger vehicles and 12.0 l/100 km for light commercial vehicles.”


That's still surprisingly high.

I think it's likely that the average Australian vehicle is heavier, since the average European/Australian passenger vehicle is the same age (10.x years).

Maybe our sulferous crap fuel has something to do with it too. I don't know.


Many of the cars you see on European streets would seem a bit... small... to many Australians.

And the roads in reverse. Australian roads are massive (and fast) compared to Europe.

Outside of the cities, this isn't true - Australian speed limits and average driving speed on highways is much lower than basically anywhere in Europe.

Inside cities, Australia definitely does have higher average speeds than inside most European cities though.


This is true of urban areas but not expressways. Motorway limits vary from 120 (Spain) to 140 (Poland) with Germany having sections of unlimited autobahn.

It seems insane to me as well. My 2010 Mazda 3, used almost entirely on country driving with an average speed of 81km/h since I got it, sits at an average of 5.2L/100km. I recall figures from a couple of family members with similar or slightly larger cars on mostly Melbourne suburban driving, and they’re something like 8–9L/100km. My parents’ Nissan Elgrand (2007 I think?) hit something like 13–15L/100km before it got switched to LPG, if I recall correctly, and it was acknowledged to be a huge fuel guzzler (so they got rid of it once enough of their children had left home that they didn’t need it), far more than the smaller-and-lighter-but-same-seat-count ’86 Tarago had been.

Just to add another data point, I had a 2005 Mazda 6 V6 Wagon and I tracked the fuel usage for an entire year. Ended up a 10.2L/100km. Something I found was horrendous compared to my friends' Corollas and Civics.

Mazda Cx7 here. 10l/100km highway, 12l city. Pretty in efficient older Mazdas. That said much larger cx9 with 3.7l engine uses same.

Back in 2010 both me and my parents owned Mazda 3 (model year 2009) cars. They live in the suburbs with no traffic lights for a kilometre in every direction. I lived in an inner city (CBD fringe) apartment. Their car consistently reported 7.1 L/100km average whereas mine consistently reported 12.5 L/100km average. Both would get the same ~6.5 on highway driving.

Point is, road conditions and driving style affect fuel economy far more than the marginal difference between vehicles of a similar size class.


Can confirm I do 8-9l per 100km in Melbourne with my Toyota Corolla.

But when Im in traffic in the morning the number of 'consumer' (non work purpose) SUV / 4WDs is fairly significant and they would all be doing at least the average.


(It occurs to me now, hours later, that I completely forgot to mention that my Mazda 3 is a diesel.)

Holden/Fords used to manufacture locally. There’s a bunch of not very economical V8’s driving around as similar performant more economical European cars got a 30% luxury car tax to give AU manufacturing incentives.

Now Holden/Ford have shut down here everyone seems to drive a Toyota Hilux / Landcruiser. Tradies get tax benefits buying an expensive Hilux, can use it as a family car as they have dual cab and can take it in the bush doing 4x4. Landcruiser are popular with those who drive in the outback due to being suited to that terrain.

As a lot of cars on the road are Hilux utes the average driver wants a similar sized SUV “as they are safer”

You also have Australia’s lack of commitment to emission policies, manufacturers use Australia to offload cars that don’t meet emission standards elsewhere in the world.


This is because it is not correct. Australians on average do drive bigger cars than in europe, but the average petrol consumption of passenger vehicles is 10.8 l/100km.

https://www.budgetdirect.com.au/car-insurance/research/avera...


The last time I was in Australia I rented a Toyota Landcruiser and went from Cairns to Cape York and back. Probably all the cars on that road did 13 l / 100 km or worse. Then I rented a small Kia from Sydney to Bathurst. Maybe I refueled only before returning the car in Sydney.

Has to be including heavy vehicles?

Australians still by V8’s but not that many of them can be...


It is including heavy vehicles, but also motorcycles. The average for "passenger vehicles" is still about 10.5 l/km. Just bigger cars I think.

https://www.budgetdirect.com.au/car-insurance/research/avera...


Motorcycles, perhaps surprisingly, aren't all that much more efficient than regular gas cars. The tl;dr is that their aerodynamics are terrible, and their engines not tuned for fuel efficiency.

Hmn. Brief research seems to show that you're more correct than I would have expected, but also that it's less true than I think you imply.

For example, https://afdc.energy.gov/data/10310 gives motorcycles as almost 2x as efficient as cars, almost 3x as efficient as "light truck / van".

Given that enormous amount of metal that's not being hauled around, I would have expected a bigger difference. Nonetheless, for single-occupant travel, halving transportation carbon footprint would be quite a great thing.


>Before any new car hits the showroom, the EPA runs an emissions evaluation and calculates a “CO2 equivalent” – a single number that represents GHGs CO2, NO X , HC, and CO. The CO2 equivalent units are in grams/mile, so a higher number means more GHGs and more climate damage. For a 2WD 2020 Ram 1500 HFE on the highway, that number is 340 g/mile. Unfortunately, motorcycle emissions data isn’t documented by the EPA. This is a real issue, because if the problem isn’t measured you don’t know what to fix.

>There are a few independent studies that shed light on the issue, however. One published in 2008 by Swiss researchers took real data from several motorbikes including a BMW R1150GS. The GS highway CO2 equivalent is a stunning 380 g/mile (17% worse than the Dodge)! They found that a 1993 Honda Shadow VX600 with only 583 ccs spews a whopping 408 g/mile. That is twice as much as a new Honda Civic!

>Other studies would suggest the problem is even worse. Global MRV tested out their portable emissions equipment in 2011 comparing 12-motorcycles to 12-cars of varying years (this was featured on an episode of Mythbusters). Motorcycles were almost universally terrible, with motorbikes from the 2000’s producing 3,220% more NOx and 8,065% more CO2 than cars of the same era. California has the largest motorcycle ridership in the country, and in 2008 the LA Times reported that while motorcycles accounted for 1% of all miles traveled, they were responsible for 10% of the state’s smog-producing emissions.

Taken from https://autowise.com/motorcycle-vs-car-emissions/ .

I've had my M1 since 1994, so I enjoy riding, so please don't take this as all negative. But it's important to look at the real data, which is much worse than people think with regards to emissions and pollution.


Many motorcycles didn't come with cats in the 2000s, combined with lots of high strung 600s running massive valve overlap.

But the modern class of commuter bike has got to be pretty good. Drag coefficient is poor but they're also a much smaller area, and city driving is more forgiving for aero.


This is a key point. Fuel consumption on my bike goes from about 22km/l all the way up to 15km/l if I increase my speed from 70km/h to 130km/h. Essentially the killer is wind drag. I'm riding a bike with notably poor aerodynamics, I suppose sport bikes do better in this regard.

This is very surprising. But on reflection I suppose it makes sense, because the typical motorcycle is designed to be a performance machine not a commuter vehicle. So the engineering trade-offs are probably more similar to those made for sports cars.

Ah, hmn, that is a very good point.

Per my previous comment, motorcycles are more efficient that cars, in terms of consumption of fuel. (though not as much as I'd have thought)

But they're also worse on emissions, which is the public harm that is of greater interest here.

And yikes, those numbers.


It's pretty shocking, isn't it.

//

The good news is that as batteries improve, bike like the all-electric Zero line are going to get both more popular and more affordable. I'm looking forward to when I can get one!


Yesterday morning just before 6AM we had some sort of maniac coming around entire suburb and reving their bike, just having a joy ride.

I was about to maim him. I hate loud vehicles.


I suppose just larger cars coming from larger roads and smaller fuel tax ?

The solution is to tax vehicles by weight, and time and location of use.

Melbourne, the State Capital of Victoria, has a big problem with congestion at peak hours.

If road use charging like in Singapore or London was introduced, it would shift usage to non-peak hours, and raise sufficient revenue to offset fuel excise.

But that's politically difficult - whereas applying a tax to EVs, which currently very few people use, is much easier.


Singapore isn’t comparable to this situation at all. To simply purchase a car in Singapore you need to purchase something called a certificate of entitlement, which entitles you to own a car for 10 years. They’re sold by tender, with different tenders for different types of cars. But you’re looking at about $30k USD just to buy the right to then buy a car. Singapore is also a country where essentially the entire country is covered by mass transit.

That.. and a person can walk across it in a day. You cant walk across brisbane or many of the capitals in Australia in a day.

Yes, but it's the mass car usage that have caused Australian, American and many European cities to spread out to such an extent that walking or cycling or even transit is no longer an option for most people.

Car usage certainly hasn't caused that at all. Many people want that because they don't want to live in the type of environment, or in the type of accommodation you will find, in high density central city living. This has been the case since long before the car was even invented.

> Right now, EVs are absolutely creating an regressive tax situation with regards to fuel. Those who can afford to buy newer, efficient cars can usually save money on tax over those who can't. For electric, it was worse - because they do tend to be more expensive to purchase up front, and they paid no fuel tax at all.

Encouraging the adoption of cleaner but more expensive technology is always going to be regressive, no way around this.

A lot of environmental regulation has strong regressive effects, it hits coal miners much harder than people sipping 10$ coffee on their macbook.


I'm of mind that all government "monetary disincentives", e.g. fines, sin taxes, pollution taxes should go into fee and dividend scheme. Solves both moral hazard (we want more fines/driving because we need revenue) and regressive nature of those.

I thought of that for a long time. Finally decided that fines should be handed over the Social Security Admin and booked against the offenders account.

Taxing milage directly seems to have worse distribution properties than taxing gas. Here is what I mean:

Suppose I am driving from New York to Alaska; I fill up my car with gas then drive into Ontario. I have now paid New York a gas tax but I'm driving on Ontario roads; Ontario gets paid nothing for this wear and tear.. until I run out of gas inside Ontario. Then Ontario gets their cut. This continues all the way until I reach Alaska. The money isn't distributed perfectly, but it is distributed.

Now imagine I am instead taxed by the mile. If the car is registered in New York, does New York get all the milage tax? Do they give any of that to Ontario when I tell them I was in Ontario? Probably not, and it would require a lot of book keeping for me to keep track of all the places I've been. Does Ontario instead check my milage at the borders and charge me an exit fee? That seems impractical and potentially problematic. Is some sort of vehicle tracking system used to fairly distribute the money wherever I drove? Such mass surveillance is obviously problematic.

I don't know what the answer is, except for imposing a tax anywhere I purchase gas (or electricity.) That's the least bad solution I can think of.


Taxing mileage (and gas) also has the unfortunate property of being generally regressive. Roads benefit us all, but those who drive the furthest are often the poorest who live far from city centers.

In my (admittedly uneducated) opinion, road taxes should be overwhelmingly be paid by commercial vehicles since they contribute much more to road damage, their costs will be passed on to consumers, and the largest consumers are the wealthy. Mileage might make the most sense for that type of tax, and I think wouldn’t unfairly burden the poor. Maybe multiplied by the value of the cargo?


Progressiveness should happen elsewhere -- in income taxes and transfer payments. The road user charges can be regressive without making the whole system regressive.

If every part of the system needs to be progressive it's much more difficult to get the behavioural incentives you want.


This seems like a pretty good solution; the infrastructure is already in place for weighing trucks at borders. Raising taxes for trucks to replace gas taxes for cars would also incentivize the use of trains, which would be nice.

You could tax electricity at public EV charging stations. That would have the same desirable distribution properties as the existing gas tax.

Yes, I think this is the best way to do it. It may also make sense to tax residential power to fund roads, since many electric car owners will primarily be charging at home. Perhaps this electricity tax could be limited to people who are registered as owning electric cars. That would follow the same principle of applying the tax where the fueling/charging is performed.

It's likely most electricity for EVs will be consumed at home, though.

In Germany, water used for watering your lawn is taxed differently from water you use to fill your tub. I'm sure we could mandate a separate meter for recharging cars.

Just curious, are there 2 meters?

(I think we do it smarter for electricity: the first x kWh at one rate, then up from there, among other billing complexities).


AFAIK: If you want to claim cheaper rate for part of it, you need to install a second certified meter for that part. If you are willing to go by default rate (which at least in some places assumes some ratio) you don't.

Ah. I guess this is all because you don’t get charged for sewerage on the lawn watering.

That's how it's done everywhere I know of in the US. You do have to pay a bit more to have the second meter, but since sewage treatment is often more expensive than initial water treatment, you save quite a lot on balance.

Can confirm, I’ve seen a dual-meter setup for garden water in Germany.

But regardless of whether you charge your EV at home or at a supercharger, you will almost certainly be using it on public roads.

> Suppose I am driving from New York to Alaska; I fill up my car with gas then drive into Ontario. I have now paid New York a gas tax but I'm driving on Ontario roads; Ontario gets paid nothing for this wear and tear.. until I run out of gas inside Ontario. Then Ontario gets their cut. This continues all the way until I reach Alaska.

It works roughly like this for trucks through the “International Fuel Tax Agreement”. Like the “World Series”, its international because it applies to Canada and US:

https://www.google.com/search?q=international+fuel+tax+agree...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Fuel_Tax_Agree...


I remember a comment on HN that said the authors city analyzed license plate reader data to find out who was driving on the cities roads. 80% of the drivers were from out of town. The annoying thing about that, unlike highways much of the funding for residential and commercial roads is paid for by local taxes.

When I think about transportation I think about a paper I read about development of rail. The US and UK's experience is you run into market failure with private rail. The broad based benefits and network effects are diffuse, too many people and businesses benefit indirectly. Which means you can't charge high enough fares to pay for a optimal system.


Pay as you go roads?

RFID tag for your car with roads reading your entrance and exit. Then a bill at the end of the month from a single body that then divides the tax back to the area that maintains the various roads you used. High traffic roads get proportional funding. You could even have seamless integration with private roads. If someone thinks they can make money out of an expensive by pass the government doesn't want to build they can.


That seems like an implementation of the 'mass surveillance' solution to distribution. That probably appeals to many politicians, but to me that is intolerable.

It would also require different governments to cooperate; New York would have to be able and willing to redistribute part of my milage tax to a foreign country when that country says my car has been there. I don't know if that's feasible, but cynically I assume it would be difficult at best to put into practice.


You know that's already happening right? For example, SunPass in FL will bill you by your license plate as you go through automatic readers, and mail you a bill to California if that is where your car is registered.

The 'mass' in 'mass surveillance' is a matter of degree. Most roads are not presently toll roads. Most are not presently tracking all cars that drive on them.

I don't find 'some surveillance happens already, so we may as well go all in' a compelling argument.


Mass surveillance is about indiscriminate surveillance(recording everyone that comes through in case a bad guy comes through), as opposed to specific surveillance(trailing a mobster to see where he goes). You can have mass surveillance on some roadways without most roads being surveilled.

You can have mass surveillance at a stadium and no surveillance outside the stadium. Likewise, you can have mass surveillance on a toll road and not on county roads.

Part of your point was the difficulty of inter-state cooperation in this regard, which is incorrect, or at least the difficulty has already been overcome, because this data has been shared with SunPass for ~20 years.

And no one made an argument that because we have a little we should have a lot. My point was that what you find intolerable of is already happening.


Is this a problem big enough to be worth solving?

There are places in the US where people live in no-income-tax states but shop across the border on no-sales-tax states. This is obviously an abuse, but it's never been enough of a problem to really crack down on.

If we can reduce our problems to known problems that aren't a big deal, that's good enough! Ship it!


They’ve cracked down on it online. eBay now collects sales taxes on all US sales.

As a Canadian, I can’t offer my items as “no tax” if I include US as a shipping destination.


> The EV industry accepts that a road user charge is inevitable as the car fleets transition to electric, but argue it should be introduced fairly and evenly. It points out the petrol excise goes into general revenue rather than road funding, and EV owners pay more tax than petrol car owners due to higher taxes from GST, stamp duty, and luxury car tax.

I think it's ok for one particular tax to be regressive if the general taxation scheme is not.


I'm not really sure I agree the general taxation scheme is not regressive still. It varies, but at least for ACT, they waive stamp tax on new electric cars, and registration is $100 cheaper. I also didn't include GST tax for fuel in my numbers above (10% of total fuel cost).

So yes, luxury tax does kick in at a lower number (which I find silly), but I think overall, you're still creating a situation where electric is paying less to use the same roads.

That said - Agree with the line you quoted. I think an even and fair tax makes sense, but I don't see how you do that at the local level when the fuel tax is federal.


Aside from an attempt to generate some inelastic revenue during a pandemic, I'm seeing very little talk of the other probable policy goal/implication of this change: that is to say, disincentives against cars and private transport in general with a hope to substitute to public transport. Like comparisons of Apple to Intel debates, this one is missing the clear other player in the room.

While it's arguable about how successful this is in either pragmatic or policy terms, dropping the context that the government is investing in both:

a) cross city train tunnel

b) outer suburban loop

c) airport line through Sunshine interchange

d) faster trains from Geelong upgrade

is to likely lose some important perspective.

This is on top of Melbourne's (which makes up easily the vast majority of the population of the state) already impressive public transport infrastructure.

Again, maybe this seems weird because people are interpreting it from the frame of private vehicle ownership, where the comparison is between ICT and EV. But that's not the correct comparison: it's actually a policy of moving between private and public transport. And from that perspective, it can also arguably make sense from an environment perspective as well.


Isn't the whole argument for public transport that it has lower CO2 emissions per passenger-mile than private cars? Electric cars in a country with a high proportion of electricity generated renewably (24% and rising) could be better than diesel busses.

Indeed, hence my point. It's all well and good to paint the situation as one of petrol vs electric, but if the issue is actually private vs public, and the later is generally more efficient, then applying a road-tax on both petrol and electric vehicles makes perfect sense.

And it's not like the remainder living out in rural victoria (where there is no PT infrastructure) are going to be picking up EVs en-mass, so it probably doesn't effect them in any fundamental way.

edit: oh wait, you mean to imply that EV vehicles don't have the CO2 impact of ICE vehicles, and thus there's not an incentive to switch to public transport? I'm guessing that's still wrong (in that our mass transport is still more efficient overall). But there's also other pollution issues aside from CO2, and the general efficiency in terms of distance travelled and efficient use of space and traffic issues that come from preferential PT use.


It doesn't make sense from a virus perspective. Public transport is a thing of the past.

Well, while i think that it's a valid point to raise the question of public transport in a pandemic, judging by the number of people on the tram I just caught to the market, I'd be inclined to say that public transport might quip "rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated".

Regardless, the government, both state and federal, is investing major dollars over the next 10 years on infrastructure which assumes the opposite, and given the current infrastructure is already there, i think its a bit premature to talk of the future with such certainty.


"The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

"Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

"But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."

Terry Pratchett, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/72745-the-reason-that-the-r...


> Encourage drivers to move to lighter vehicles which cause less wear and tear on the road, and drop the disparity between fuel and electric. They both use the same tires.

And what of the damage that non-electric vehicles do to the environment? Shouldn't we be accounting for that?

At least roads can be easily repaired.


"Australian cars right now avg about 13.1 litres per 100km"

Wait, that can't be true. That's an insane number if correct. Here in EU a car that averages 7-8L/100km is considered to have poor fuel economy. My previous car was a Mercedes AMG that over 4 years averaged 12L/100km and that was considered absolutely abysmal by everyone, people were wondering how I can afford the fuel for it. And you're telling me that the average for Australian cars is higher than that??


  1. Ford Ranger
  2. Toyota Hilux
  3. Toyota Rav4
  4. Hyundai i30
  5. Mazda CX5
  6. Toyota Land Cruiser
13.1L/100km seems pretty good in context.

Does it? In Europe you would only have something like the Hilux, RAV4 or the Land Cruiser with a diesel engine, and then maybe on a bad day they would average 8L/100km. More like 5-6L/100km in normal use. I imagine if those were fitted with a big petrol engine then those numbers would explode, but then the idea of a big work truck fitted with anything other than a diesel just seems wasteful.

Diesels are about 25% in Australia. In my extended family, several are mechanics, everyone has land cruisers. But second cars are also common. My parents have a Hyundai Ionic and a Prado (smaller land cruiser).

I live in Europe now, and you simply can't compare the driving to Australia. Some roads are genuinely scary with the occasional cow or roo to hit.

Electrification is much more feasible in Europe, and the sooner the better. Every little diesel engine sounds like a truck. Now if only they would stop piling the taxes on electrics ...



For USians, that's 18 mpg. Low, but not horrible for some trucks and large SUVs.

can't be a fleet average though.

How do you track the number of Kms driven? Is it possible to do so while maintaining the privacy of individuals?

Every car has an odometer... one could think of a relatively convenient scheme where you can get your car inspected once a year at any refueling station, and tampering with the odometer is a crime. Won't stop everyone, but does it matter?

How do you distribute the money to places where people drive but don't live? Gas tax handles this to an extent, but milage tax wouldn't; not without border checkpoints or mass surveillance.

The government has stats on how busy easy road is. Just pool all of the money and distribute it based on those stats.

To give an example - in my hometown in a few places there are small wires on the road surface that measure the number of cars that drive over it. Private by default!

I don't think Odometers are reliable enough, especially as the basis for a tax. You'd certainly see an increase in average tyre size!

They're probably accurate to within less than 10%. How many kilometers would you have to drive to save a dollar from slightly bigger tyres?

I was being slightly facetious in referencing tyre size, although people regularly have to adjust speedo/odometers by 10% or more when fitting large tyres on off-roaders.

Odometers can have their values changed at will, at least in ICE vehicles, often for valid reasons.


Fudging do numbers illicitly is already a huge no-no in the US.

It also is in Ireland, but there are valid reasons, such as as replacing an ECU or dash cluster.

Unless auto manufacturers are required to fit much more secure odometers, I can't see them in their current incarnation used as the basis for a tax.


New Zealand collects road tax on diesel vehicles using odometer readings. It generally works for heavy commercial vehicles where the owners have more to lose risking fraud but I know private vehicle owners who would wind back or disconnect their odometer to avoid the tax.

It's more difficult than that: How do you track the number of Kms driven on public roads. As claimed purpose of tax was to cover the wear on these.

Your analysis is fine but the first step, or a concurrent step, needs to be tripling that motor fuel tax. That would only just barely bring it up to the necessary level of carbon taxation, nevermind the roads.

Facts:

* One litre of petrol creates 2.3kg of CO².

* A going market price for an offset is $25-50 per metric ton

So the tax per litre to offset the CO² is 6 to 12 cents.


I think use tax on infrastructure is a bad idea full stop. If you want to encourage more efficient cars or less driving do it with car tabs.

I don't need to drive my car on a road to derive value form it. In the same way that I don't have children but still benefit from schools.

Property taxes should be the source of funding for infrastructure projects.

Use taxes are regressive and result in underfunded infrastructure with the wealthy paying less and adding another barrier to the poor making ends meet.


>>That said - I think the only real answer here is a more thorough overhaul of how you tax road usage. Perhaps it's time to ditch the fuel excise tax entirely, and tax all drivers based on (vehicle weight * kms driven * some constant).

Also congestion. Charging based on how much congestion is on a roadway while a car uses it will reduce traffic during peak times and increase how much economic value the road transportation network contributes by making the most valuable use-cases get priority access to roads during peak demand periods, while spreading out driving across a larger range of hours to reduce overall delays to traffic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing

Traffic is basically due to a scarce economic resource - road space during peak times - having no pricing to prioritize its use. People thereby pay for road space during rush hour by paying in time stuck in traffic, which is a very inefficient economic mechanism for determining the allocation of scarce resources.


>tax all drivers based on (vehicle weight x kms driven x some constant).

But what about my mates who own the trucking companies? Are you implying they should pay their fair share?


> tax all drivers based on (... kms driven

This is just not realistic to apply, and especially in Australia. You'd need someone to actually record those numbers, which would be a massive overhead of salaries on its own. Then you have crazy distances... you'd either send the inspector to that single farm 300km from the nearest town, or force people running it to being the trucks in for a check monthly.


No reason to not just tie it to the rego.

Let the drivers report the odometer reading, and add the amount for the last period to the new cost.

You'd get some folks who lie, but there's already inspections in place for sales in some states. If the owner wants to sell the vehicle, require an odometer check and a final payment.

Basically - I don't really think there's a ton of extra admin cost here. Most folks will self report just fine.

Plus, we should be encouraging emissions inspections anyway. At least in the US many states require yearly or bi-yearly inspections to confirm nothing is wrong with the emissions systems in the vehicle. Good way to encourage basic maintenance and to vet manufacturer emission claims against real world data.

It's tied to yearly vehicle registration there too, and includes an odometer reading.


Trucks already have regular checkups of odometer, to verify speed limits has not been exceeded, not 100% sure but it might even include checking time in flight, for sleeping-regulations. In Europe.

The vast majority of road damage is done by heavy trucks. Don't need to tax these cars at all.

Passenger car road taxes are an immense subsidy of road freight.

… and this is why price comparisons between rail and truck freight are typically bad, my dad tells me: because railways are expected to pay for their tracks, whereas trucks’ use of the road network is massively subsidised by passenger cars.

I think there's a lot of truth in that. That why I was so specific about including weight as a factor.

But you still need to maintain existing and build new roads, and not only trucks drive on the road. What about snow? It needs to be removed for normal cars as well as trucks.

Snow removal is probably different, but the point is that road maintenance due to regular road wear would be significantly (perhaps at least an order of magnitude) less if there were only passenger cars on the road.

It also needs to be removed for bicycles and pedestrians, who don't pay special taxes for that.

But bicycles don’t cause air pollution nor do they damage the roads. So you got me puzzled why they should be taxes. Pedestrians are taxed too much anyway

I was making an argument against taxing EVs. Or I tried to.

In the USA, snow removal is (mostly) not paid from gas tax.

Growth should pay for growth, so, no, we also don't need to pay for new roads.

Roads are also funded by property tax.


> That said - I think the only real answer here is a more thorough overhaul of how you tax road usage. Perhaps it's time to ditch the fuel excise tax entirely, and tax all drivers based on (vehicle weight * kms driven * some constant).

If you want to tax fairly based on road wear, you have to tax by axle weight to the 4th power * distance driven.

That said, there's a pretty simple solution that doesn't send the same "we are punishing EV owners with an extra tax" message: have a road usage tax for everyone, and slightly decrease the fuel tax.

But please, PLEASE, keep most of the fuel tax. Climate change is a real, urgent issue, and everything that encourages change away from fossil fuel should be kept.


You could make all vehicles pay road usage tax, keep charging fuel tax and use the latter to subsidize fuel efficient vehicles. It doesn't solve the question of how to make that palatable to the majority of people who can't afford an EV, though, even with subsidies.

Or just increase the gas and diesel taxes, which has a win-win of encouraging EV adoption and cutting down on CO2 emissions.

Taxing by weight will put EVs at a disadvantage given batteries are heavy compared to fully loaded fuel tanks.

> Perhaps it's time to ditch the fuel excise tax entirely, and tax all drivers based on (vehicle weight * kms driven * some constant).

How about means testing through progressive taxation of income or wealth?


That sounds like a solution that wouldn't ever get traction in the US with the love of stupidly large trucks and SUVs.

I dunno, I think this is a pretty draconian imposition by a state known for its decadence in a country that used to like to think it was a leader in building new infrastructure in tough conditions.

With all the energy resources at Australians' disposal, it sure seems off-kilter to not be rewarding those who chose to go more efficient.

Would that there were Australias own local industry capable of competing with Tesla .. and I say that as a once-proud Australian.

With a local industry leading the way, as usual, the Australian government could get a clue.


They will be rewarded. It's half the tax of petrol vehicles and the fuels is also much cheaper on top of that.

The point is, Australia could move off fossil fuels quicker than most other countries, and has one of the biggest motivators for doing so - its environment.

However, the will of the people is not there. Or at least, the technology to disrupt Australia's coal and oil junkies, isn't there.


With respect to road damage via heavier vehicles, as other posts discuss, I won't. Not because it isn't real, but because the debate has been going on for, oh, 50+ years. Thus, conflating that issue with this, will result in an utter and relentless logjam.

So back to your post, one thing I'm utterly against is taxing per distance driven. Why?

Privacy. There are already talks all over the place, discussions in government, of having a GPS tracker counting distance. Some even discuss real time uploads to the government, others monthly dumps.

Sorry, no. No, no, no. In fact, not sorry. :P Because talk about full time surveillance! I realise that in some nations, like the UK, who have RFID/TPMS trackers, and license plate trackers all over the place, this might seem normal.

But I do not want that here.


There is a way to charge for distance without gps tracking or such levels of privacy invasion.

For example, tolls where you pay cash is a solution. Obviously, that is adding a transaction cost, which is not desirable.

But let's think of a more privacy secure way to create an easy pass like system.

The obvious problem of easypass systems is they track cars by license plates and thus create a massive database of which car went through when.

But it could be legally required to purge the license plate data of cars that paid.

You could get a signal when going through the tollway that indicates the amount to pay. You could send a transaction via a cryptocurrency with a signed message on the transaction and then a separate API call to the state tollway system telling them which license plate was just paid for by the transaction.

Then any vehicles that had paid would be converted into effectively cash records with the license plate number purged.

Thus, data is only retained on those who broke the law and didn't pay.

While obviously this requires a government to see privacy as enough of a concern to adopt such data purge policies, it is totally possible.

If anyone else can think of a way to allow pay for road usage solutions that are more privacy secure, I'd love to hear them.


Two things. There is no system on Earth which tracks, which you can ever, ever trust to be purged. We already have issues with state actors, all over all of our democracies, constantly stepping out of bounds.

They spy where they are not allowed, play tricks with the letter of the law. For example, 5-eyes, where Canada is not allowed to spy on Canadians, and the UK on UK citizens, so each spy on the other's citizens, then hand the data over.

Or recent stories in the US, of the government buying data from the private sector. They can't spy, so they pay the private sector to spy.

I have zero faith that any scenario where data is harvested, that it won't be illegally/immorally/sneakily used. And history, that all important metric, 100% backs up that this sort of thing happens again, and again, and again.

So point #1? There's no scenario where we can ever trust 'track and delete'. Nor, can we ever trust any 'black box' in a car. EG, if we cannot open it, examine it (something highly unlikely in a metering device), no way will I ever trust it.

Number 2? Tolls are beyond impossible. I think you must live in a population dense area, to believe they are viable.

Yet think of rural routes, side roads, or just normal non-freeway roads. There are many 100s of millions of miles of these, and they greatly outnumber freeways. They cost upkeep too.

I often go 6 months without driving on a freeway, where I live. I know many people who drive thousands of km a month, yet are entirely on rural roads.

There isn't even network connectivity, including cell, in some of these areas. Phones. Loads of roads have no power lines, are just 'connect this dirt road to this dirt road', yet see a thousand cars a day.

As a side note, right now, we aren't paying per km. People driving a sports car, get 1/2 or 1/4 the gas mileage of a little smart car or some such. Yet, they both pay the same for gas.

Two things bother me here:

1) The whole reason most jurisdictions have 'tax people when paid', is because many people cannot save, and even if they could, literally have no money left at the end of the year.

If there is some 'pay later' or 'show up yearly, be tolled, and pay' scenario, this won't work well. Not at all. Collections alone is a horrible cost on any service, which costs immensely.

2) We already have odometers, which are theoretically sealed, illegal to monkey with, tied to car value, and with a HUGE history of laws / court action wrapped around them.

Anything can be monkeyed with or hacked, ANYTHING, so my point here is that odometers are already in the car, show distance, and have laws protecting them. And even, already, mechanics fully aware of the punishment for tampering with them.

(Odometer replacement even legally requires setting the replacement to the same as the old, etc, etc, or making an indelible note of it.)

But I also take objection to the government knowing how much I drive. Or when.

Really, I don't think this is much of a problem though. The whole reason Tesla went with electric, is because Musk wanted reliable gear for Mars. Can't use O2 burners there, so H2 was out.

With the recycling costs, slow charging of batteries, this is only a stopgap.

H2 is where we're going, over the next decade. Once that happens, taxation will be back where it was anyhow.

At the pump.


Agreed. Electrics are also substantially heavier, and therefore they cause more road wear, much like light trucks. In the US tax incentives for electrics are also de-facto giving money to the rich. The poor aren't buying electric cars. In some states there's now an upper cut off somewhere around 30K selling price for subsidies, but really, the subsidy needs to be income-based, not price based, and I say this as someone who's firmly upper middle class. It's completely idiotic to subsidize me for buying what amounts to an extreme luxury item.

> 13.1 litres per 100km

This seems crazy high even by US standards. My 300 horsepower 6 cylinder BMW, for example, uses 9.7L per 100km, and I drive mostly in the city.


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