I guess we may interpret “public commons” differently. I definitely support taxing the shit out of cars to pay for roads, but I mean that’s definitely not libertarian roads or anything.
No, it isn’t, and it’s not the way I would want to do things.
But it’s one way of internalizing the cost of using the roads on the people who use them, and (depending on how the tax is set) allow their limited capacity to be allocated on the basis of willingness to pay rather than the highly wasteful method of how long one is willing to wait in traffic. Although the obvious problem is that it does nothing to put the cost on the people who use them most or at the busiest times.
Assuming a government that can legitimately enact a tax:
Don’t tax cars, tax fuel.
This has so many positive knock-on effects compared to taxing cars.
- Taxes on the raw price of cars will also put a tax on all kinds of things you didn’t want to discourage, for example: Airbags.
- Exception-based taxation (reduce the car tax by X% for each air bag in the car) becomes fiendishly complicated very fast, is always gamed, and results in cars having extraneous features nobody would want if they didn’t help ease tax burdens.
- People who really do need to use the roads a lot are incentivized to save expensive taxed fuel by switching to more efficient engines, reducing the CO2 burden and any trade imbalance with oil producing nations.
- You mentioned this yourself, but: Taxing cars instead of gas is a tax on “owning a car,” not on “taking up road space.” Taxing gasoline is almost a tax on using the road.
- Heavy vehicles induce more wear and tear on the road than light vehicles. Heavy vehicles use more fuel than light vehicles. Again we see fuel usage is a useful proxy, this time for who should pay more to maintain the road.
“But what,” some people ask “Do you do when everybody switches to electric cars and you can’t tell how long they drive any longer?”
Keep taxing fuel. You were taxing it when burned in power stations too, right? Right? Electric cars still use fuel, there’s just a transformative step first. Tax the fuel when it’s sold, not when it’s used.
“But what,” some people ask “Do you do when everybody switches to solar panels and nobody uses fuel?”
Institute a road toll, also call up the green party and say “Mission accomplished, pay me my consulting fee.”
Just go straight for the road tolls. Taxing fuel overtaxes people who don’t use fuel for driving (home heating, electrical generation for non-vehicle use) and undertaxes electric cars that already don’t use fuel-generated electricity (hydro or nuclear).
If you think the fuel tax is worth doing for other reasons, perhaps because of climate change, then tax carbon generally and use the money to mitigate or compensate for climate change, not to fund roads.
Road tolls are just
kind of messy
Either you only put a toll on some roads which diverges traffic down small side streets that shouldn’t see heavy vehicle traffic, or you block the side streets at one end or the other (which is also undesirable because they do serve a legitimate purpose in alleviating some traffic), or you engage in the kind of vehicle tracking even google would blush at.
If it was possible to institute a good road toll I’d definitely favor that, but most ways to do it are just kind of bad.
So yeah, a good road toll is better than a good fuel tax.
But a good fuel tax is better than a bad road toll.
And it’s hard to create a good road toll but kind of easy to create a good fuel tax.