Here at the Bike Trailer Shop, we spend most of our time thinking about better ways to carry stuff on bicycles. But occasionally we try to look around at larger transportation issues beyond our somewhat narrow scope.
Hearing about President Obama’s recent agreement with the auto industry to increase the average fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks to 35.5 mpg by 2016 got me thinking about various other approaches to reduce our dependence and over-consumption of oil.
While I applaud this step that Obama is taking to regulate the auto industry, I have my doubts about how it will work out given the market forces of our current return to low gas prices. Consumers are far less inspired to look for fuel saving alternatives with prices at $2/gallon vs last summer’s $4/gallon.
I believe that for a real change to occur in American’s driving habits and the efficiency of the vehicles that they drive, a stronger more consistent incentive based approach to the problem should be taken. I believe that the best approach to achieve this would be a well structured gas tax that is simple, effective and politically viable.
A recent article in the New York times presents what seems like an overly complicated approach to the issues though it is followed by a large variety of interesting viewpoints in the comments to follow.
Following is what I think is a viable approach for a gas tax:
1. Tax gas at a rate that attempts to value the cost of its use (beyond the cost of bringing gas to the pump).
2. Right before the tax is begun, issue every tax paying American a stimulus check.
3. The stimulus check will be for the following amount: approximate revenue from the first 3 months of the gas tax divided by the number of tax paying Americans.
4. Issue larger stimulus checks to business’s that use large amounts of gas. Set up business gas use categories to do this in a simple yet equitable manner. (These business stimulus checks would also be part of the overall calculation for stimulus checks for tax payers)
5. Repeat stimulus checks on a quarterly basis using the previous quarters gas tax revenue amount to determine the next quarters stimulus check.
This plan puts the money earned from the gas tax equally in the pockets of all tax paying Americans. If they drive an average amount, they already have the money to pay the gas tax in advance. No matter how much they drive, everyone will feel the incentive to keep the money in their pocket and spend less on gas.
Businesses that need to use gas in order to operate will get appropriately larger amounts of the gas tax revenue in their stimulus check to cover the amount of their increased gas costs, but will also be able to clearly see the advantages of seeking out more fuel efficient solutions should they choose to do so.
Paying the stimulus checks ahead of time on a quarterly basis and tying it to the amount of revenue gained from the gas tax will make a gas tax much more palatable.
In essence, moving in this direction is a declaration that we American’s as a people have realized that gas is an integral commodity that comes with very high costs beyond the costs of bringing it to the pump. These “beyond the pump” costs of gas, should be shared equally among all Americans. By applying a tax that attempts to value these costs and by putting the revenue from this tax equally in the hands of Americans, we empower all Americans to choose how best to evaluate and act on the costs of the consumption of gasoline. Americans can approach the costs of gas from an equalized footing choosing perhaps to drive less, use more fuel efficient vehicles or instead choose to absorb these higher costs thereby paying other Americans for thier higher levels of gasoline use.