A story this morning instantly made me think about the discussion that followed when I wrote about Funding Mass Transit back in July. This story is about a driver who chose to use biofuel in his vehicle:
Bob Teixeira decided it was time to take a stand against U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
So last fall the Charlotte musician and guitar instructor spent $1,200 to convert his 1981 diesel Mercedes to run on vegetable oil. He bought soybean oil in 5-gallon jugs at Costco, spending about 30 percent more than diesel would cost.
His reward, from a state that heavily promotes alternative fuels: a $1,000 fine last month for not paying motor fuel taxes. He has been told to expect another $1,000 fine from the federal government.
To legally use veggie oil, state officials told him, he would have to first post a $2,500 bond.
SEP stands for somebody else’s problem. It refers to things that are in plain sight but we rarely (if ever) think about them. (from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) Fuel taxes are one of those things. Because of their SEP nature we rarely think about the cost of maintaining roads. Most people drive their cars everywhere without a single thought for the wear they are putting on public infrastructure. They blithely fill their vehicle without thinking about the silent tax that they pay without question. The only time people think about gas taxes is when their is a proposal to increase them. They never think about them otherwise no matter how underfunded the roads become.
I’m not saying that this unconscious approach is necessarily bad, but it is not unlike our health care problem where we fail to recognize the actual costs associated with the types of care we partake of and thus we don’t consider whether that cost is worth the benefit that we receive. (In most cases it is, but how often do people run to the pharmacy or the operating room when a lifestyle change would be a better – though harder – solution?)
Because it is so easy to pay the fuel taxes it is difficult to accurately compare the costs of using cars vs mass transit. Until that comparison can be made we can only guess at the best approach to hit the moving target that is our traffic problem. Right now we usually only hit on a solution when traffic comes to a standstill.