Friday, April 23, 2021

We don't need mass-surveillance to pay for the roads

Stuff reports that the government is considering replacing fuel-taxes and road-user charges with mass surveillance:

Fuel taxes and road user charges could eventually be abolished as part of a Government review into the way it collects about $4 billion a year from road users.


One option being considered is to replace the taxes with a GPS tracking system on cars, which could effectively toll drivers for how often they used the road. The National Party pledged to support a similar idea at the 2020 election.

...which of course means tracking everyone, everywhere. Which ought to be a policy red-line.

The problem driving this is that the government is trying to shift drivers to EVs (which don't pay petrol taxes and are presently exempt from RUCs), and to shift people away from driving at all. So it needs to find some way of paying for the roads when its major revenue sources will be shrinking. But there's lots of ways to do that which don't require mass-surveillance. For example, we could just get everyone to use RUCs, and increase the rate as required as people drive less. If that's too fiddly, we could bill it with the WOF, or just apply a flat charge on the annual registration fee. Or, we could ditch the whole user-pays roads assumption entirely for light vehicles, treat roads as a public utility, and pay for them through general taxation. Which would have the advantage of ending the rort where businesses get to claim their RUCs - essentially, a tax - as a tax-deductible business expense.

Trucks are the complicating factor, because they do all the damage (not to mention create all the demand for super-highways), and it seems unfair that the rest of us should subsidise them. So some hybrid system which distinguishes between light and heavy vehicles seems appropriate. But there's plenty of options, none of which need mass-surveillance.