Taxing actual miles is better, but vehicle weight should be a factor for VMT

Because I’m in the 99th percentile for having strong opinions, a recent Washington Post article about some states experimenting with “vehicle-miles driven” (VMT) taxes in place of gasoline taxes got my attention. I’ve been complaining about the rampant up-ramping inadequacy of taxing only gas as a proxy for road usage for years.

Wear & tear is a cost of all cars, not just gas burners

Though they use less gasoline, it is obvious that hybrid and electric cars also cause wear and tear on roads, just like those powered by internal combustion engines do. Excluding those which weigh less than an average human being, every driver of any* vehicle on the asphalt should be paying a share of maintenance for streets, tunnels, and bridges.Pile of money

First let me point out that I think eliminating the gas tax entirely would be stupid. We should continue to tax fuel purchases for as long as they occur commercially because burning gas directly tracks with carbon dioxide emissions. Every breathing creature on the planet is affected by that pollution, not just the people driving automobiles. Taxing it is just!

I believe America’s leadership made a terrible mistake when it didn’t radically increase the fuel tax after 9/11. At that moment, patriotism might have mitigated the political hit. The true cost of every gallon of gasoline includes our spending on wars in the Middle East, defense against terrorism, and the ongoing environmental damage of carbon emissions and oil spills.

Gas is a dirty fuel in every sense of the word.USA flag - 1

With that being said, even 100% electric vehicles are not without deleterious effects upon our motorways. Never mind the generation of electricity—environmental issues there can be managed via different levers—but consider the physical reality of the cars themselves. A 2021 Toyota Camry rolls 3310 to 3475 lbs around our pavements depending upon trim level; a Camry Hybrid weighs in at an even heftier 3580 lbs.

That hybrid is eating some asphalt.

Space is occupied by hybrids as readily as by conventional cars

Add road congestion, parking issues, and traffic to the question of wear and tear. Engine type doesn’t affect those either.

To be clear, my position is that a combination of a fuel tax collected at the gas pump and VMT computed from individual vehicle data should start out with a total tax burden similar to today’s for a typical driver—specifically, those opting for efficient, mid-sized cars traveling an average number of miles.

I’m not advocating for a sudden huge jump in tax collection—though I believe most of us should be paying more than we do now to reflect the true cost of operating private vehicles—but for the choice of vehicle combined with actual miles driven to dictate the total tax burden per driver.

Allowing these rates to rise gradually over time would protect commuters from a sudden financial shock while allowing for desperately needed infrastructure improvements to begin across America. Escalating costs for operating outmoded, oversize vehicles in inappropriate environments would also nudge manufacturers and consumers toward more rational conveyances designed specifically for the types of trip actually being made day in and day out.

That Camry I mentioned occupies about 96.6 square feet (192.1″ x 72.4″ per Toyota’s specs) standing still. I’m pretty broad in the beam, yet my own standing square footage requirements are about 1.5′ × 1′ or 1.5 sq. ft.  math working out square footage of Toyota Camry

For reference: An average bicycle is 68″ long by roughly 24″ wide; therefore, a bike occupies about 11 ¹⁄3 sq. ft.

Here’s a quick visual comparison of the relative square footage occupied by a human body (lady) vs. an average bike vs. that same Toyota Camry. Remember to consider this graphic should be multiplied by the almost 8 billion human inhabitants of planet Earth to fully grasp the big picture.sketch on graph paper showing relative sizes of lady, bike, car

As a person with some physical disabilities, I’m hardly suggesting that all of us should walk or bike everywhere instead of using powered machines we’ve improved for that purpose over the course of millennia. Still, I’d argue that the ideal single person vehicle should be much closer to the size and weight of a bike if not the human body itself vs. a Heavy Duty pickup truck or even a sedan like that Camry on which I keep picking.

Even “compact” private vehicles operating with single passengers are a wildly inefficient use of space. That’s a more noticeable issue in dense cities, but the inappropriateness is blatant in any context given a modicum of though.two children stand next to blue hatchback

Again, as a person with physical limitations, I remain loathe to ban passenger cars outright from most spaces—even urban cores—but I absolutely support governmental policies that reflect the full, true costs of our dependence upon personal vehicles sized to hold entire families or a small sports team yet routinely carrying individual bodies.

A preposterous percentage of Americans—who carry multiple occupants on a given vehicular trip only 49% of the time, on average, per 2011 data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics—elects to drive something rather larger than a sedan.

According to Edmunds, in 2020, four of the top ten “Most Popular Cars in America” were full size trucks; three others were SUVs. That makes 70% of the favorite American choices for mostly carrying one human body even larger than the Camry I’ve been offering as an example of a standard passenger car.

According to this Bloomberg City Lab article, “Since 1990, U.S. pickup trucks have added almost 1,300 pounds on average. … the biggest vehicles on the market now weigh almost 7,000 pounds.” It would appear that human bodies in America aren’t the only ones experiencing an obesity epidemic.

The way that larger trucks have regulatory status as commercial machines, not passenger vehicles, making them exempt from EPA fuel economy reporting rules must be addressed. A solo commuter to an office should pay—literally, via her tax bill—for inefficient choices that affect others.

Those hauling heavy machinery or farm equipment may be reasonably held to a different standard of taxation. Differentiating between legitimate commercial vehicles and passenger use in calculating VMT strikes me as wise.

Major popular objections to VMT as implemented in 2021

Returning to the specifics of the states currently enacting—or testing— VMT in 2021, two major objections are noted (from the same Post article from paragraph one, bolded emphasis mine):

“Surveys of drivers involved in pilot programs revealed questions of privacy and data security as top concerns. Many environmentalists also are opposed, saying that taxing gasoline also[sic] is also an effective tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Under a miles-driven system, the highest-emission vehicles stand to gain a tax break.”

I see simple solutions to both of these non-problems with implementing a sensible VMT.

Environmental solution via VMT: factor in weight

To address the concern that fuel-guzzling trucks and SUVs will be under-taxed given their tendency to pollute, the miles driven tax rate ought to be multiplied by the weight of the vehicle.

Accounting for actual weight corrects for the environmental damage done by over-sized SUVs and pickups used frivolously in place of fuel efficient passenger cars for urban commuting. A Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is already required of all manufacturers. Use that information to tax drivers based upon their chosen vehicle multiplied by the number of miles s/he drives. That result offers a pretty reasonable assessment of how much wear and tear one individual puts on our public roads.

I believe the best policy in a free society is to allow the real price of operating even the most bloated conveyance to convince drivers to make better choices when conscience fails. I wouldn’t ban Hummers, but I’d like to see their owners pay for more of what they’re currently getting away with stealing from future generations.

Allow people to continue to “express their individuality” by driving one of the most popular “cars” i.e., full sized trucks if they wish, just make them pay their fair share of what they’re using.

Privacy objection to VMT: read the odometer, stupid

The privacy issue is hugely important to me, but carrying an intrusive GPS tracking device at all times is hardly the only option for implementing VMT.

You don’t need location data to assess miles driven. There’s an odometer built into every modern vehicle.

States like mine already require annual safety inspections of any vehicle operating on public roads. Adding an odometer reading to that process—done in state-certified facilities in every community—would add only a trivial amount of time and effort to that process. Remitting one’s “actual miles driven” tax after an annual safety or emissions inspection could be required before new window or license plate stickers were provided.

States could offer tracking devices like those used in Oregon’s program to those who prefer to pay smaller, more manageable, more frequent periodic bills, but also allow drivers to accrue billable mileage with collection due quarterly, annually, when registrations are renewed, or simply upon sale of the vehicle. That could lead to a large tax bill for someone making the latter election, but it effectively removes all privacy issues from the tax.

Odometer readings could be self-reported or taken at government facilities or in approved private garages such as car dealerships or service stations; any discrepancies could be caught upon sale or transfer of the vehicle. Deposits based upon averages—the individual’s historic mileage as these programs persist over the years or from data captured by auto insurance actuarial tables—could be held in escrow by the state if necessary.

In the longer term, odometers could be designed to transmit readings without coupling that information to GPS location data. Data transmission of this type is well within the bounds of current technology.

In short, there are no insurmountable technical or privacy obstacles to implementing a fair, cost-effective collection of VMT in 2021.

Bigger, heavier vehicles take up more than their fair share of space, they cause roads to deteriorate faster, and they represent a greater threat to the health and safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists. A properly designed VMT should tax individuals for their choice of vehicle in combination with the quantity of miles driven. That would be by far the most fair and reasonable option I can imagine.

* Though this may not be a universal position, I believe that every human has the right to navigate the world under his or her own power without taxation. Bicycles and skateboards probably do exert a small toll upon the surfaces they transit, but I suspect their effects are negligible compared with that of most powered conveyances.

The electric bike pictured in the photo to the right of the construction trucks was used by my father to commute to his last full-time professional job before retirement. He was in his 60’s at the time and found the electric motor assist necessary to cope with a particularly steep hill between home and office. To be fair, he always had access to a car for days when the Oregon weather made cycling miserable or unsafe, but Dad makes a fair proxy for a non-young, not-above-average-in-fitness commuter.

Again, from the same Washington Post article, here’s a description of how Oregon is currently implementing its VMT program:

“Participants in the state have three ways to sign up — two privately run systems and one administered by the state Department of Transportation. The private companies send drivers a device that logs where and how much they drive or pull the data directly from vehicles. Then they send out bills and turn over the revenue to the state. Drivers get reimbursed for gas taxes they pay at the pump.

The companies keep drivers’ data for 30 days, and participants have options that include not sharing information about their locations.”

Peek inside my lunchbox: a butter box could save your cookies

Sometimes, you buy a special purpose item, and find it works really well for something unexpected. Here’s an example from my kitchen.

I bought a plastic butter storage box. I wanted to take a single stick of butter camping with less chance of squishing or greasing every other item in the cooler.*

Butter box wafer container for lunch box - 2

Here’s a single stick butter storage container on Amazon ($7) that looks like mine. I don’t have a purchase record to confirm this is the same item, but it should serve a similar function.

This little box is the size of an East Coast stick of butter. It happens to be a wonderful size for sending three wafer cookies in a lunchbox if you’re willing to break the third in half.

Butter box wafer container for lunch box - 1These gluten free Schär wafers have a tendency to disintegrate into crumbs anyway, but breaking one to fit the box probably wastes less cookie. Total devastation is wrought by sending them to school in a baggie like I would with a more robust dessert.

Lunch quick pack busy morning - 5

The butter box also works great for a skinny wrap sandwich made with a flexible, flour tortilla instead of bread. Peanut butter or a light layer of thinly sliced deli meat only! You’re working with an interior space designed for a 1.25″ x 4.75″ stick of butter.

Perhaps this dish will suit your own favorite long, skinny, delicate cookie. When it comes to dessert, I like to save every crumb for eating. The lunchbox should get none.

It’s easier for me to test spatial relationships by getting my hands on something. I can draw diagrams and take measurements and make pretty good educated guesses about how things will work in the world, but I’m not particularly gifted at mentally fitting shapes together.

I wouldn’t have guessed how often I would use a butter box for school lunches until I had one at home to experiment with. In the quest for packed lunches without waste, this is a useful—and uniquely sized—container.

Read more packed lunch posts: containers I like and a Thermos jar time saver.

*My cooler tends to be a mess when I go camping, unlike my carefully curated chuck box!

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea there were alternate shapes for cubes of butter. Imagine my surprise upon moving east for college to discover that something I thought was standardized came in a different shape. The outer packaging also differs. On the West Coast, butter comes in fatter cubes packed into a row in a VHS VCR tape sized box. Back East, the sticks are slimmer and longer and they get packed together into a box more akin to a building brick.

When I pointed this out to my mother, she said, “That must be why some sets of dishes have such weird, elongated butter dishes! I always wondered why manufacturers did that.”

Ah, the things you take for granted before you travel!

That’s how I IKEA. I’m very good at IKEA. My success is entirely based upon sketched models, however.

Angelrox “The Loop” scarf vs. the Shawl: sustainable fashion well suited for travel

If you’re anything like me, you’ve browsed the Angelrox online store and yearned for one of each garment in all your favorite colors.

I love this women’s clothing brand from designer Roxi Suger for reasons I’ve gone on about before. A quick recap, Angelrox offers:

  • Made in the USA
  • Woman owned business
  • Small New England (Maine) company
  • Celebrates bodies of all sizes in its imagery
  • Beautiful colors in figure flattering silhouettes
  • Comfortable, sustainable knit fabrics including organic cotton
  • Great customer service

Most of these factors also make Angelrox garments moderately expensive. The prices are fair, but you’re not going to hit a big closeout sale and overhaul your entire wardrobe at a bargain price like you might at a retail giant importing its goods from low wage nations.

Angelrox is not fast fashion. Consider a purchase from them a way to shop your values and invest in a sustainable wardrobe.

You might like Angelrox if you also wear Eileen Fisher.

The Loop and the Shawl by Angelrox

Here’s a preview of the two specific pieces I’m comparing today, The Loop $38 (infinity scarf) and the Shawl $78 (wrap)

I make repeat buys of the silhouettes that I know and love. Between the Goddess dress $158, Glow gown $188, and Doublet $78, I’m dressed in Angelrox several times each week.

With most orders, I also splurge on at least one new accessory. I’m curious about many styles, and there’s always another color I’d like to see in person. You can only judge hue so well using pictures on the internet.

Accessories are the most affordable way to get my hands on the whole rainbow of Angelrox options. The least expensive choice, The Band $10, doesn’t suit my positively Medieval forehead, but I wear their fingerless gloves (Sleeves, Aria $22 or Opera $28) almost daily as a balm to my arthritic small joints.

Recently, I’ve added The Loop and the Shawl to my Angelrox collection. I ordered both in Violet, a bold magenta.Angelrox Loop Shawl comare table

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Gear review: Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard lightens up my travel life

The Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard weighs less than my favorite mobile input solution, the Logitech K780, but it also has backlit keys, which the K780 lacks.

My Arteck is light, and it lights up, thus doubly lightening my travel life!

Bluetooth keyboard Logitech Arteck compare - 5Please pardon that little bit of inane wordplay. I can’t help myself sometimes.

Arteck HB030B Bluetooth Keyboard: At a glance

  • Connects to (pairs with) one device at a time
  • Suitable for use with iOS, Windows, and Android devices
  • Rechargeable lithium battery uses standard micro USB cable (included)
  • Backlit keys
  • Frustration Free Packaging consisting of a sturdy cardboard box sufficient as a case for my travel use; zero plastic garbage
  • Weighs 214 g or ~¹⁄ 3 lb
  • 9.7″ x 5.9″ x ¼” or about as small as a useful keyboard can get for adult sized hands
  • $20 (US) retail

Why buy another keyboard when I love my Logitech K780?

I bought my Arteck from Amazon in April 2018 for $19.99. That makes it noticeably cheaper than my K780. I paid $75.90 for the Logitech in 2017.

The Arteck HB030B weighs 214 g, simply annihilating the Logitech’s 863 g. In a one bag travel scenario, shaving off 649 g—75% of the heavier K780’s total—can make an appreciable difference to my carrying comfort.

I use a Bluetooth keyboard paired with an iPad Pro as an alternative† to a weightier, bulkier, less flexible laptop. The Arteck keyboard together with my iPad weighs in at 59% of the K780 + iPad Pro combo.

Here are some more visuals to show the difference in size between my two portable input devices.

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Managing chronic pain on the 12+ hour flight to New Zealand

Since developing chronic pain that accompanies an autoimmune condition, I’ve continued to indulge my love of travel, but learned to adapt my bookings and my belongings to minimize pain and maximize comfort.

 

Flights of six hours or so are regular occurrences for me and my family. I’ve had a couple of very painful trips of this duration, but, more typically, I can tolerate them by adjusting my medication slightly and employing a few aids such as wrist braces, inflatable cushions, and hot water bottles.

 

This winter, I faced the longest single flight I’ve ever taken: 12 hours and 40 minutes just for one leg from Los Angeles, CA to Auckland, New Zealand. The combination of traversing the United States from our New England home (6.5 hours), crossing the Pacific (12.7 hours), then connecting to our final destination of Christchurch, NZ on the South Island (1.4 hours) made for a total time in the air of 20.5 hours.

Of course, one must also add to that total the requisite airport waiting time required by international flight connections, customs, security, and the necessity of allowing adequate buffers in case of delays. At least two full days of my calendar were bound to be eaten up by this voyage in each direction.

After considering many options, I elected to travel in two distinct stages for both directions of travel. This meant parting ways with my husband entirely for the domestic portion of our trip. His schedule doesn’t allow for an unnecessary day spent in transit where tighter connections are possible.†

I was away from home for a total of fourteen days; DH, by taking his domestic and international flights serially on the way out—and heading home on a red eye straight off the international leg—traveled for twelve days.

Though this post isn’t really meant to be a trip report, it must be said: even two weeks is barely adequate for visiting the antipodes. If you can squeeze more days out of your schedule, use them for a trip of this magnitude.

New Zealand is awesome, and well worth every hard won vacation day.

My itinerary outbound:

BOS-PDX on Alaska Air 33, Saturday 16:20-20:10

Three night stay with family in the Pacific NW

PDX-LAX on Alaska Air 568, Tuesday 10:50-13:22

LAX-AKL on Air New Zealand 5, Tuesday 21:40-Thursday 07:20*

AKL-CHC on Air New Zealand 527, Thursday 09:00-10:20

My itinerary for the return:

CHC-AKL on Air New Zealand 574, Friday 20:00-21:20

AKL-LAX on Air New Zealand 2, Friday 22:50-13:35**

Overnight hotel stay at the Crown Plaza LAX

LAX-BOS on Virgin America flight 1360, Saturday 07:05-15:34

Itinerary adaptations to reduce pain

I’ll repeat what I feel was the single most important adaptation I made to my itinerary to accommodate my autoimmune condition and its symptoms: I took extra time.

Travel. Stop. Recover. Repeat.

Heading west, I took advantage of family who live near the Portland airport who don’t seem to mind my visits, spending three nights at their home. This sleepover gave me time to recover from the initial cross country flight and ease my body’s adjustment to a change of three time zones.

NZ Crowne Plaza LAX hotel room - 1Upon arrival in New Zealand, I had already acclimated from the Eastern to Pacific zone (USA West Coast) which represents half of the total time shock. Though the flight is lo-o-o-o-ong, most of the travel between California and New Zealand is in a southerly direction. You only drop three more time zones on that 12 hour flight.

Heading west is also usually less difficult in terms of jet lag.

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