We Need a Mileage Tax on Self-Driving Cars

Is this the future of self-driving cars?

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David Roberts writes that he doesn’t share the current disillusionment that autonomous vehicles might never become safe enough to navigate city streets. But there’s a second problem that he is worried about:

The other form of disillusionment has to do with a growing concern among urbanists that AVs will, by making personal-vehicle travel so much more convenient, induce more of it. They worry that AVs will increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT), further clogging America’s already congested city streets….In fact, I don’t think people are worrying about it enough. There are reasons to believe that any private autonomous vehicle industry will not just increase VMT, but will pursue more VMT aggressively.

Roberts spins this out into a Space Merchants-esque dystopia where cars are free but we’re forced to watch advertising at all times to pay for them. I dunno. If taxis could be paid for solely by advertising, I figure it would have happened by now. So color me skeptical about this scenario.

However, I don’t there’s any doubt that self-driving cars will increase the total amount of driving. Of course they will. There are plenty of trips I don’t take because I don’t feel like fighting the traffic or I just don’t feel like driving for an hour or two. But with my new robot car, why not? All I have to do is settle back into the La-Z-Boy installed in my vehicle and do whatever I was going to do anyway. Take a nap. Read a book. Surf the web. Write a blog post. Of course I’d drive more.

There’s a limit to this. It will still cost money to drive, and there’s a limit to how many places we all want to go, no matter how easy it is. Still, car usage will go up.

Self-driving cars will be coming to a garage near you within a few years, no matter how many people gloat whenever there’s a blip of bad news. So how do we keep travel from skyrocketing? The increased traffic from self-driving cars is a classic externality, and the usual solution to an externality is to charge for it. So what we probably need is a graduated mileage tax on autonomous vehicles. We have to do something to keep those robots in their place, after all.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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