Fox News is calling mileage-based user fees that several states are considering “Orwellian,” implying the government would be able to track your vehicle without permission and perhaps even “shut your car off.” But the network's segment left out that such proposals generally include devices that cannot track your location and certainly cannot turn off your car, satisfying both the American Civil Liberties Union and several conservative organizations.
In a segment featuring no voices in defense of mileage-based user fees (MBUF), Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum declared such proposals the “most Orwellian thing I've ever heard.” MacCallum hosted Berkeley Varitronics Systems President Scott Schober, who suggested the government may be able to “shut your car off” if you do not pay the fees. MacCallum added that if “somebody is stalking you and they want to know where you're going, they could very well hack right into this system and follow you.” The segment was so conspiratorial that fellow Fox News anchor Jon Scott joked that “I see the black helicopters over your studio right now”:
Ryan Morrison, Founder and CEO of True Mileage, Inc. -- a company that designs devices that could be used for MBUF -- said this “definitely sounds like misinformation.” In a phone conversation with Media Matters, Morrison said “no company or departments of transportation are looking into devices that could shut off a car.” He added that “certainly no one would be able to do anything like that with our devices, and the only time that I've heard of something like that is with a LoJack” for stolen vehicles.
In addition, according to Morrison, most proposals are suggesting allowing citizens to choose whether to install devices without GPS-tracking -- such as his company's -- or to install ones that do have GPS-tracking -- in order to save money when they travel out of state or on less congested roads. For instance, Oregon, which has moved forward with a pilot program for a MBUF (also known as a “vehicle-miles traveled” (VMT) fee), would allow participants to choose devices that do not have GPS tracking and delete personal data after 30 days. The American Civil Liberties Union is reportedly “satisfied with the privacy protections” in Oregon's program.
The idea of charging drivers by the mile rather than by the gallon has found unlikely allies in the conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense and the libertarian Reason Foundation, which supports the “more logical and fairer method of paying for state highway needs.”
These groups recognize that, contrary to MacCallum's suggestion, there is a need for further funding for our transportation infrastructure in order for it to remain safe and reliable. The federal gasoline tax, which supports the Highway Trust Fund used to build transportation infrastructure, has not been raised in 20 years:
Due to in large part to inflation, this has meant that there is much less funding for building and repairing highways, roads, and other transportation infrastructure. In fact, one out of nine bridges in the U.S. are currently structurally deficient.
How to fill this gap is an area for debate, taking into consideration how a MBUF could lower incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles, but Fox News' one-sided fearmongering is a step in the wrong direction.