Hooniverse Asks- Would You Be Okay With Paying For Gas Based on Your Car's MPG?

At least where I live, both the local Edison, and the water company base their rates on how much you use. Stay below a certain pre-determined limit and you pay one rate for the month. Go over that limit, and you’ll incur a surcharge for all those long showers and never turning the basement light off because it’s just too creepy down there. This works out to be an effective way of encouraging conservation and staving off the need to build new power plants or start towing icebergs from the arctic. And it’s easy to do because the users are stationary and constantly metered.But would something similar work for petrol? Imagine if you would, paying a discounted $3.00 a gallon for gas because your car gets over 40 MPG highway. Now imagine a surcharge for your neighbor – oh, let’s call him Frat-boy Biff – and he pays six bucks a gallon because his Suburban sucks the dead dino juice to the tune of 18 MPG. Frat-boy Biff pays more because he uses more, and his overly consumptive behavior means that he is forced to subsidize your fuel cost, making it cheaper for you. Ha, ha, sucker. That would not only encourage conservation but it would get a lot of those massive SUVs that are so hard to see around off the road. Naturally, there would be concession’s for commercial vehicles, and old people too, because you don’t want to piss off the fogies.
How would you do this? The same way that the Quik-Pass lets you rocket through toll booths secure in the knowledge that at the end of the month you’ll receive a tidy bill in the mail, and not a summons for a court appearance. RF transceivers tied into the car’s OBD II or some other system would broadcast to the pump what it was and hence what to charge. The surcharge would be collected, and the discount would be applied through a virtual escrow account. The gas stations and oil companies would still get their asking price, this would be separate from the transaction.

Why would you want to do this? Well, if you’re one of the unlucky ones saddled with a gas hog, then you wouldn’t, but then you don’t have to participate – there’s always Canada. Kidding. As social engineering, it would be an effective way to shift the country to smaller more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, and as those cars demand less gas, by Keysian logic, supply would exceed demand and the price of gas would stabilize, or not increase quite as fast.
Now, for those of you sharpening your pitchforks and lighting your toiletpaper wads on sticks, yeah, it’s a radical idea. It’s also one that those who typically would rather harm themselves than do anything that is socially responsible deride as Socialism, a term that has been dusted off and is being used as the new boogie man without significant regard to its actual applicability.
We have other forms of social contract – smoking constraints and, of course, speed limits – that attempt to moderate and sustain the social order, and while you might grumble about each, it’s the glue that keeps us together. But would you buy into this kind of contract to keep gas prices from going all Europe on us? Yes, the current rise in pump prices is being caused by investor speculation, not supply constraints, but the fact remains that we could stand to push back from the energy table earlier and more often than we now do. If not this way, how would you suggest we become less-consumptive of liquid dinosaur?

Image sources: [Skeptically.org, bigpicture.com]

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  1. dukeisduke Avatar


    1. dmilligan Avatar

      In fact, not only no, but fuck no.

  2. Cretony38 Avatar

    Ok my bike gets 49MPG in the city and it's not made for economy. I cant wait til gas is $10 a gal. Nice open roads for me to ride!!!

  3. west_coaster Avatar

    Maybe, but only as long as classic cars are exempt. (And no, a shitty '80s Chevy Celebrity is NOT classic.)

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      THIS. If you're driving a Raptor or a Challenger, you can damn well pay exorbitant gas prices; you chose that vehicle, you chose to get that car, knowing the gas mileage would suck. If you're doing your part, pay a lower price. But if you're collecting an awesome old car that is a piece of history, and only gets 8 mpg… you're exempt.

  4. marcus Avatar

    Seems like a lot of the postings are becoming awfully political…that's what killed Jalopnik and it will kill this site as well. Can't just talk about cars and stuff, huh? We are in the most politically divided era of my long life, and it would be nice to be able to go to some sites without having to get in to arguments about socialism and the like, especially with people who have no idea what they are talking about. Plenty of sites for that already, and darn too few pure car sites. On the subject of your question, if you get to decide the areas of my life where I should pay more for things, can I pick some for you to pay more? Say I don't like some facet of your life and feel you should do what I say you should do…Should your second or third cars cost a multiple to register, or should you pay a huge surcharge for having a boat, or for fishing, or traveling for vacations? Where does it stop, and where does my right to live my life end?

  5. OA5599 Avatar

    That's backwards. State highway departments are struggling to keep roads in good repair, partially because better fuel efficiency has led to fewer total gallons of gasoline being consumed, and thereby taxed. It would be much better to make Prius drivers pay a surcharge equal to the tax not collected based on the fuel they don't use.

    1. SSurfer321 Avatar

      Me and my fuelslut F150 like this answer.

      1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

        Ha-ha-ha, "Fuelslut"!

        1. SSurfer321 Avatar

          I can't take credit for coining the term. It's a car club in Orlando, FL that I have some friends in.

    2. dragon951 Avatar

      Well that, or a rate based on miles of road usage, which was the point of the article.

  6. P161911 Avatar

    I want a volume discount. In most industries, the more you buy the cheaper it is. At least that is the way capitalism usually works.
    I could see many harmful effects of something like this. Would there be an exemption for work trucks? Many small businesses of middle to low income require a pickup truck or large van. Are you going to punish the landscaper, plumber, and carpenter just to make the guy that chooses to buy an Escalade or Hummer pay more for his gas?

  7. west_coaster Avatar

    I'm pretty sure he already covered that.
    Naturally, there would be concession’s for commercial vehicles

    1. P161911 Avatar

      The problem comes in in defining commercial vehicles. What about the guy that works a regular job all week, but uses his pickup truck on weekends to cut grass or sell firewood? If you start making exemptions you start seeing things like SUVs just barely over the GVW for a tax break.

      1. OA5599 Avatar

        Perhaps you could define them according to Section 179 criteria:

        1. P161911 Avatar

          That would work for most businesses. I guess what I am thinking about are those small second job, cash only type of businesses that the government doesn't like to admit exist. The things a lot of guys do so their family can afford a vacation or just to put food on the table in the worst case. The type of income that usually doesn't get reported on the old 1040.

  8. buzzboy7 Avatar

    I don't see this working very well but I wouldn't be surprised if the currentdumb government tried something like this.
    I for one don't drive very often, maybe a tank in 2 months. However I also own a classic car that may scrape out a little over 20 going 45 and with a tailwind. Then again, I do love bikes…

  9. Van Sarockin Avatar
    Van Sarockin

    No, because of the loss of personal privacy all of the recording and verification equipment would require. This is the same reason I object to roadway use tolling being done by GPS transmitters.
    Gas pricing already exerts a strong impact on people's purchasing and use decisions. To that end, raising the gas tax would be the simplest way to reduce gas purchases. The regressive impacts of this could be offset by providing tax credits to lower incomes.
    It would be tricky to accurately assess fees based on stated gas mileages. Some people drive differently than others and get better or worse milage that the standard sticker. Some cars are modified in ways that greatly impact gas mileage, so you'd have to have periodic, random inspections to make sure your car remained stock at all times. Expensive and intrusive.

    1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq


  10. FЯeeMan Avatar

    The (US) government is already doing everything it can to engineer market demand, and this might be another tool in their belt of already non-functional tools. Sure, SUV sales are down, but look how many are still sold. People, for whatever reason, want them, so they'll buy them. Those who want tiny econoboxes/hybrids/etc, for whatever reason, will buy those. The government, left, right, centrist, extreme, elected, dictatorial or otherwise cannot legislate human desire, therefore it cannot legislate the market any more than it can legislate morality.
    Those who drive inefficient vehicles already pay for it in gas-guzzler taxes at purchase, and daily/weekly at the pump, and they continue to willingly pay. I fixed some of my personal gas price issues by replacing a (totalled) 20mpg minivan with a 30mp(premium)g sedan – I pay about 5% more per gallon and get a 50% better return. Plus, I no longer look like a dork driving it! If it weren't for 3 kids and all their sports crap & several personal & business trips we take each year, the other van would be replaced too.
    Let's let individuals make their own decisions about how to spend their money instead of trusting "them" to know better. (Yes, my politics lean a bit right, and I'd like to jump on the "legislate morality" bandwagon, but I know it won't work.)
    The other reason this won't work is already detailed in the previous comments. "Sounds great, but I need an exemption for my ___."

  11. Maymar Avatar

    I average about 35mpg, so I wouldn't complain. On the other hand, I feel smug enough when gas prices shoot up, it's not necessary.

  12. michael Avatar

    So, my Mustang gets 18 mpg, and my neighbors car gets 40. My commute is ten miles and his is one hundred(round trip), and he drives to his condo in florida every weekend while I stay at home and watch t.v. How would this law account for that? Maybe people should pay a higher price the more fuel they use, not based merely on the gas mileage of the car.

  13. RichardKopf Avatar

    My Volvo and LHS both get about 25mpg on the highway, so: no.

  14. skitter Avatar

    No. If you want to use less fuel, you share driving duties with other people. Commute with a roommate or neighbor. Road-trip in one van instead of two sedans.

  15. IronBallsMcG Avatar

    I have secretly implemented a system in which people who drive less efficient vehicles pay more per mile traveled. People at all levels of efficiency get a little upset at the rate, but it seems to be working pretty well.

  16. Smells_Homeless Avatar

    Sounds like another way to tax poor people to me, the concessions made to commercial vehicles are just icing on the cake. See, people who can't afford whatever shiny new hybrid or electric that is both efficient and meets their personal needs are still going to drive. And what kind of 10-15 year old vehicle fills the buy-here-pay-heres? Those bastions of efficiency SUVs and their minivan cousins.
    Maybe in 25 years when we've finally figured out what's going to replace oil and that tech has trickled down, but before then no thanks.

    1. TX_Stig Avatar

      I agree that the poor should not be taxed excessively, but remember that about 50% of this country does not pay income tax. I understand that circumstances are dire for many of those people, but there needs to be a way for all people in the nation to support the nation. Then again, I find it of dubious relevance to discuss politics to that level in this forum. As usual, I digress from the issue at hand.
      To answer the question asked, I don't mind the idea. I am cheap, therefore I tend to find cars that are relatively efficient.

  17. MarkySparky Avatar

    1. Buy a fuel-efficient car
    2. install valve on fuel tank
    3. Arbitrage your gas discount on the black market to SUV drivers
    4. Profit!

    1. lilwillie Avatar

      Missed yours as I wrote mine. Nice to know I'm not the only one with the idea.
      Hell, if they wanted to do this I could put pumps in at the shop. Profit…profit..profit.

  18. M600 Avatar

    Well I hate SUVs so let's just get that out of the way up front. But I don't think this is such a great idea, even apart from the fact that it would become a bigger political football than abortion.
    The price for all petroleum products should reflect its true value and its true cost. Oil is a scarce resource with myriad uses that is currently being consumed at break-neck pace because the price is low. I don't think, taking the long view of how hard it will be to replace oil as a fuel, a lubricant, an ingredient to polymers and a plethora of other uses, that the price of oil is anywhere near high enough. The market is plainly not taking into account the insurmountable problems of coping with life after oil, particularly given the inevitably higher demand that accompanies development in China, India and elsewhere.
    It is also a factual statement that oil production and oil consumption produce externalized costs in forms of water pollution, air pollution, CO2, despoiled wildernesses and so on – true of many other spheres of human activity such as agriculture and mining, by the way. Does the price of oil put a price on that stuff? No. We are extracting and consuming oil and writing cheques our great great great grandchildren will not be able to cash.
    So I agree that the "market" price of oil is bogus, because market actors are too short-sighted to bother trying to value these other things and integrating it into the cost. That's why the people, through their government, need to use market levers to correct the price and make sure its production and use are attenuated appropriately to serve our long term goals. But I'm not convinced this particular idea of price discrimination at the pump is the best implementation.

  19. Froggmann_ Avatar

    No and as for your analogy of paying less for electricity by using less then your baseline I got news for you. That baseline decreases every year due to your coming under your baseline. So three years of cool summers will get you nailed once that scorcher comes along. They only started using this a couple of years ago so you aren't going to see the limbo stick lowering just yet but it will.
    As for your suggestion, it only rewards those of financial wealth and those of average stature. The short is, people of my size typically can't fit in a car that garners 40 MPG Usually the roofline is too low or there is no legroom. The other side of the coin is with the ever-raising baseline those who can't afford a higher mileage vehicle get screwed both ways. Either they have to sacrifice a lot to get a higher mileage vehicle or they have to sacrifice at the pump. In other words the well to do elitists will reap all the rewards and the average schlub will continue to get hosed, but harder.

  20. Mechanically Inept Avatar
    Mechanically Inept

    Nope. Let the market, and speculators, and OPEC determine oil/gas prices. Also, I drive a beater Dodge Caravan that struggles to get 20 MPG on the highway and never sees that in the city. $70 fill-ups are better than a car payment, though.

  21. B72 Avatar

    SUV's are here to stay. I had one, and it was great for trailering when you had to haul people too, hauling stuff when you have fewer people, and driving in snow. Unlike a pickup truck with an open bed, you can lock your stuff. The downsides are poor MPG, and irrational hate.
    The challenge with any solution that attempts to address what people drive by changing the economics is that 25% of the households in our nation make less than $25k per year (per the utmost reliable source, Wikipedia). I'm sure these folks would love more economical vehicles, but in that income bracket, you run what you've got. Doing things that improve economic accessibility of transportation make more sense when it comes to reducing consumption. Things like designated bike lanes to reduce accidents. How about designated motorcycle lanes while were at it. And improved public transport. Doing these things would create jobs (to build them) and make alternatives to consuming gas more attractive. Which at the end of the day means more fuel left for those of us here to hoon with. I'd rather build something than pass laws any day of the week.

    1. Lotte Avatar

      I've had the chance to try out designated bike lanes; I was in the more rural parts of Hong Kong a couple months ago and it was great. It was totally segregated from the motorway save for crossings, which were shared with pedestrians. Cars can't go on it, pedestrians can't walk on it. Perfect! It was like a separate mini-road system complete with their own mini-roadworks machinery cordoned off by mini-roadside pylons and mini-signs! It was surreal; it was a 2/3 scale highway system.
      So I agree; spend the effort to make other solutions better instead of making the current one worse. This solution seem kind of backwards.

    2. dragon951 Avatar

      I agree. The only thing I have to add is that providing a better alternative meets much less resistance than establishing a penalty based system and trying to catch all those who subvert it. The money spent enforcing the laws ends up dwarfing the up front cost of building the public transport.

  22. Smells_Homeless Avatar

    Actually, I like this version. And I don't think selling unused stamps would be a bad thing, necessarily. There's a finite number of stamps, it shouldn't matter where they get spent as long as the initial disbursement was fair. It'd be just like carbon credits.

  23. lilwillie Avatar

    1. Dig up or buy Title for very fuel efficient car.
    2. Go to the local station where the owners and employees couldn't tell the difference between a 'Burb and a Metro.
    3. Fill up huge tank with cheap fuel.
    4. Supply fleet.
    5. Profit.

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      I was thinking, hey, why not reinforce the bump stops on a Metro, tint the back windows to the legal limit, and build a second tank into the rear cargo/backseat area? It's the same sort of idea, but you might actually get away with it (so long as no one watched you put 40 gallons into your tiny hatchback).

  24. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    No. Not at all. Hippies are half the reason that I still have a parts/replacement supply for my Volvos, and this would take all of them off the road in favour of more hateful Prii. Besides, fuel economy is its own reward – you drive a full-size gas-powered truck, you're going to spend twice as much as the guy with the Honda as things are now, and that's fair enough.

  25. Alff Avatar

    Quite so. Like you, I have a pickup as a "spare" vehicle. It used to be my DD until gas approached $4 last time 'round. Then I parked it in favor of something more efficient. Even now, my choice of vehicle for a particular trip is typically governed by whichever one will do the job at hand with the best mileage. The market works.

  26. Jim-Bob Avatar

    Well, I get between 44 and 49 mpg delivering pizza in the $250 Geo Metro, so I haven't really been affected all that much. In fact, as my mileage compensation is normalized for 25 mpg I actually make a profit off of higher gas prices. It is offset by insurance costs though as the business insurance on the Metro is $130 a month higher than it was on the 20 MPG 4 cylinder Frontier or my 14 mpg 355 Chevy-powered Cutlass Supreme or even the horrid 11 mpg I got out of my 360 powered AMC Spirit. Still, I do save around $90-100 a month versus the Frontier. If I was to gauge it purely on cost per week, I spend about $5-7 a week more now than I did when gas was $3 a gallon-and I drive 2500-3000 miles a month.
    I do hope to get a little better mileage in the future though and am assembling a max-economy 3 cylinder for the Metro with a modified head and a special custom-ground cam to hopefully eke out another 5-7 mpg from it. Adding taller tires and gears from a 4 cylinder Metro should help to add another 2-3 mpg and hopefully put me in 55 mpg city territory fairly soon. The old engine will go in my other Metro which will be sold when gas hits $5 a gallon this summer and I can maximize my profits on it. All totaled, I think I will actually end up in negative price territory when that car is sold as the profits should outweigh the expenditures and my play of the oil commodities market that began in November should net me about a $1,000-2000 profit. I am also shopping for a scooter or moped though in case things continue to go up. My life (work, family, shopping, etc.) is all within a 3 mile radius of home and so I don't have to go too far (I am 1.8 miles from work as my job is right outside the entrance to my subdivision.).
    As for what to do, I want a special license and training requirement for all vehicles in excess of 5,000 lbs and 6 feet in height. Modern HD pickups can haul what medium duty trucks used to haul only 20 years ago and licensing requirements have not kept pace. If a medium duty truck requires a CDL then a 1 ton pickup with a 5th wheel should also. Plus, heavy and large vehicles require extra care when operated around smaller vehicles. many drivers of these things fail to see scooters and compact cars next to them when they change lanes making it dangerous for the operator of the smaller vehicle. The extra licensing and training requirements would keep many people from owning Ford Expeditions and Chevy Suburbans, thus reducing the fleet fuel consumption we have today. More people would own cars, which tend to be more aerodynamic due to having less frontal area. This would trickle down to the poor within 5-7 years as the used market will become more efficient. I would also change the law to allow for the importation of used kei cars. These are naturally efficient and don't carry the heavy hybrid price tag of something like a Prius, nor are they difficult for the average poor person ( like me) to repair at home.

  27. TX_Stig Avatar

    That's the way our utilities down here work. I like the tiered consumption pricing model. That would work well.

  28. TX_Stig Avatar

    As has been said elsewhere, it would require the pseudo-regulation that is similar to the utilities. One can apply for hardship cases with the power company, by which rates are lowered, or the difference between tiers of usage is lessened. Unfortunately, this would require more bureaucrats. Which would require more taxes for their salaries…

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      <img src="http://pics.librarything.com/picsizes/ba/88/ba8822b1cf48ca5597948355367434d414f4541.jpg"&gt;
      Cyril Northcote Parkinson is proud of you right now.

  29. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    You already pretty much summed up the ever-expanding cycle of taxation and government administration which is the major point of the book. You can convince people you've read it just by remembering the acronym "ERMI" — expenditures rise to meet income. That's Parkinson's Second Law.
    (His First Law, covered in an earlier book, is "The time necessary to complete a task expands to fill the time available.")

  30. Jim-Bob Avatar

    Car insurance is NOT mandatory to live in this country!!! You can choose any other means of transport-from walking, to cycling to riding a moped to public transport and not pay it. Likewise, tickets are not mandatory either. If you fail to break the law the it is not very likely you will get one (in my 22 years and 700,000 miles of driving I have received 2 speeding and 3 parking tickets). You cannot get away from that terrible health insurance bill ( bought and paid for by big healthcare campaign contributions to Obama). Sorry but if I have to buy health insurance I will not be able to buy food. No government should mandate the purchase of a good or service as a requirement of citizenship. That is what this is and that is why I am opposed to it.

    1. scrnclutter Avatar

      Seriously? Your local/state taxes pay for the "service" of law enforcement and first responders in most cases. Your federal taxes pay for the service of an external defense in the form of the military, and a service in the form of roads maintenance and other such things.
      You pick a line where you think something isn't a good or a service, cool. But that doesn't mean that other people can't commoditize what you believe is a bare minimum.

    2. socialism=patriotism Avatar

      You just verified my point.
      You have those 2 speeding and 3 parking tickets, because you were greedier than the law allowed. You paid them. The same with a gas guzzler premium tax, if you can control your consumption you won't have to pay that extra. In those cases where you are wasteful, you would pay extra.
      The health care thing is not the way you describe. No, you don't have to drive in the USA. However, you DO have to use health care. The laws have been on the books for more than 80 years that REQUIRE a hospital to take care of you if you suffer some sort of emergency. That is not a choice you can make. A condition of citizenship in the USA is that you WILL receive health care if needed. You might say you don't use health care, but like while driving, you can't tell when an accident will happen. A CONDITION OF LIVING IN THE USA is that YOU MAY ONE DAY HAVE AN ACCIDENT OR HEALTH PROBLEM REQUIRING CARE, and you WILL be taken to a hospital and you WILL receive care and they can lock you up in there if the doctor thinks it is necessary for your health regardless of what you want.
      As long as those laws are on the books, (and I don't see any conservative or Republican or anybody actively trying to reverse this) the only financially responsible/conservative way to fund that is to require everyone to have insurance. Otherwise it is just the rich paying the bills for the poor, which is what we are doing now.
      So your argument that health care is like driving in that it is a decision, is not true. Sorry that the talking heads you got your information from didn't tell you the basics of USA health care, but the truth is every day you wake up in America without health insurance is just like hopping into your car and driving without car insurance. You are putting everyone else on the road (or who pays taxes) at risk of paying for your lack of responsibility. That is why it is/should be required.

  31. austinminiman Avatar

    How are they going to determine it, anyway? What about those of us who drive a '92 Volvo 960 Wagon that gets less than 10 MPG? Well, 5.5 was the worst I've gotten on a tank average, but…

  32. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    You inspired me…

    1. TX_Stig Avatar

      Glad I could be of service to you. My cynicism and general surliness has finally served a purpose.
      In all seriousness, though, it sounds like Parkinson's writings would be worth reading over.

      1. Alff Avatar

        If you read it, be sure to do so on the job so you get paid for it.

        1. TX_Stig Avatar

          Are you kidding me? I don't read this stuff on my time. I have important things to do at home.

    2. TX_Stig Avatar

      And just for the sake of keeping things fun around here, it sounds like Parkinson, for all his railing against bureaucracy, is technically correct . Which, Bureacrat, is the best kind of correct.