Small state gets a big brother

The governor of Rhode Island just signed a bill massively expanding tolls. Initially the plan only targets heavy trucks, but in the future you can expect to see this all over the country for cars.

Sensors above major roads will track vehicles and calculate tolls. The vehicle owner will be responsible for payment (initially capped at $40 per day). The fine for late payment is $3,000.

Can you spot the lie in the press release?

Here it is: “it is estimated that about 60 percent of trucks paying tolls will be from out of state, which means they are not otherwise supporting Rhode Island’s infrastructure through taxes or fees.”

Rhode Island is a member of the International Fuel Tax Association. It collects fuel tax from trucks that drive through without stopping. Car drivers can get away with buying cheaper gas in another state. Truckers have log books showing where they actually drove, and there is a system in place to make sure they pay tax to every state they drive through.

So for all the cries of poverty, these tolls are on top of an existing tax. Almost all tolls are. Truck drivers proposed raising the diesel tax as an alternative, but politicians wanted a new tax and a new collection and surveillance infrastructure.

I don’t believe the tolls will remain limited to trucks. There’s too much incentive to say “since we already have the infrastructure, we might as well…”

Governor Weld eliminated car tolls in western Massachusetts, but kept truck tolls and toll booths. It was easy for his successor to reinstate car tolls. West Newton remained toll free for 20 years only because he demolished the toll booths. (It was a great political stunt, and I appreciated it as a resident, but it didn’t win him the election. Soon the free ride will be over.)

As a side effect of this program Rhode Island will have a record of every car trip you take on a highway. What do you think they’ll do with that record? I mean besides sell the database to raise money.

The opinions expressed in belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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