Monday, June 06, 2005

Taxing Brit Drivers

Having forgotten to mention it during the recent election campaign, Blair's government just announced it plans to put GPS trackers into every vehicle in the UK and then tax them by the mile. Clever taxing but lousy science.

The taxing is clever because the Brit Finance Minister, Brown, knows all about the Laffer curve. So, he spreads his tax net as wide as possible, and keeps them at lowish levels. Road taxing is a dream. By upping the per mile cost on a single road, he can pull in extra revenue without going near parliament. And he'll be smart and spread the pain geographically & chuck in a few nostrums about global warming, cutting accidents and so on.

The lousy science is that they don't understand Graph Theory - how complex networks function. Because people respond to tiny price differences, putting up fees on say, Motorways (Interstates) will cause drivers to move to lower cost routes, doing complex time/cost calculations. Alternate routes will in many cases go through towns, which because they mix people and traffic have higher accident rates. So health care, emergency services etc. costs will increase.

I used to run through country lanes just wide enough for a horse & cart around where we lived in the UK. Then the local town shut down a very lightly used access road so that drivers from one of 8 directions could not go through its center. Immediately, all the surrounding country lanes become full of cars. Turned out that they'd blocked a key node on the drive to the local supermarket.

There will be a million other unintended consequences, all bad.

And to cap it all, Blair plans a "pilot" experiment! Which, being unbounded will simply displace traffic outside of the pilot area, and produce useless data.

The good news is that the scheme will trigger the growth of starts-ups building covert GPS jammers and location spoofers. Might need a fake ID card as part of the spoofing. Hmmm.