Drivers of big vehicles should pay a progressive gas tax
Until recently, I owned a Dodge Ram pickup, a big thing with a matching topper, seating for six, room in the back for bikes, a mattress and a pile of skis if the need arose. At 16 feet long, it was big, but the carrying capacity came in handy in my own travels and for work.As a creature of habit, I always parked in the same place when I went to work, so the other day, when I headed out to the truck, I was confused not to see the big blue truck in its usual spot.OK, I must have parked elsewhere, but after looking around and not finding the truck, I came back to my usual spot to realize that the truck was in fact there, but completely hidden from view by something called a Ford Excursion.At 19 feet long, this largest of SUVs completely blocked the Dodge Ram pickup, with topper, from sight.Summit County residents are used to excess. The vast majority of the homes in the county, more than two thirds, are second homes, sometimes third or fourth residences, with price tags starting at more than half a million dollars.So an SUV so large, with a gross weight of 8,600 to 9,200 pounds fully loaded, is not a shocker. There are no published numbers on the Excursion’s fuel efficiency; officially, that’s because MPG numbers for it wouldn’t be helpful to consumers due to a “wide variance in vehicle loading and operational conditions between various customer applications.” Its only competitor in weight, the General Motors Hummer H2, at 8,600 pounds or more than 4 tons, barely gets 10 miles to the gallon, so it’s safe to assume the Excursion’s numbers are similar.At 4 tons, that’s equivalent to three Toyota Celicas or Ford’s own Focus or, at 30 pounds each, equivalent in weight to three hundred bicycles. Three hundred! With a profit margin of around $10,000 each, it’s easy to understand why Ford produces and continues to sell over a thousand Excursions each month. Not so long ago, Ford sold twice as many each month, but the spring surge in gasoline prices has put a damper on sales. Happily for Ford, sales will likely be looking up as prices at the pump begin to recede.The Excursion and its owners are easy targets for derision. Anyone who would consciously buy a 19-foot-long, 4.5-ton “car” with an 11,000-pound towing capacity and seating for nine must be compensating for some real or imagined personal shortcomings. But if that’s how people choose to spend their money, then that’s certainly their decision. However, there are public consequences to private ownership of vehicles so inefficient, so large, so impractical. So while it’s a free country, there are exceptional costs to accommodating excess, costs which should rightly be borne by the owners of these vehicles.That’s why the gas tax should be progressive, and not a flat rate. At present, if you drive a Ford Focus, you pay the same state gas tax per gallon as the owner of an Excursion, even though the road wear caused by a Focus is much less, since the Focus is one third the weight and half the tire size. The state gas tax should be higher, triple perhaps, for passenger “cars” more than 6,000 pounds. It’s only fair compensation to state taxpayers and motorists for wear and tear, bigger parking lots and wider highways that such vehicles require. And if the buyers of such vehicles are prepared to endure the quiet mockery of their fellow drivers and ignore the derision with which they’re held when they clog the roadways, then a truly fair gasoline tax is something they can easily absorb as the psychological price for driving such a big “car.”I don’t own a Dodge Ram pickup these days. I wasn’t carrying so much stuff anymore and at a stroke, I was able to double my gas mileage with a new Subaru Outback.The price of gasoline isn’t on a downward trend, by the way, despite the recent dip. It’s only trending higher, and in the final analysis, the federal gas tax, separate from state taxes, should be progressive as well, higher on the gas guzzlers to help pay for the war in Iraq being fought for the most part to keep the oil flowing to fuel 19-foot-long, 4-ton “cars” in car-crazy America.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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