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A Problem with Electric and Self-driving Automobiles:

April 12, 2016

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I support the movement toward electric vehicles and self-driving automobiles. They are a necessary component of any comprehensive assault on the looming crisis of human-induced climate change. There is, however, an emerging problem that should be examined and solutions proposed and implemented— the sooner the better.

The automotive system in the United States, as it is in most countries, can be described as predominately individually owned vehicles operated on collectively owned and maintained public rights of way. In the US, this system of right of ways is funded, not from the government’s General Fund, but chiefly by a type of user tax based upon levies on gasoline and other petroleum products used to power the vehicles.

Since about the turn of the Century, miles driven per person have fallen consistently year after year. Increased mileage rates per gallon of gasoline have risen putting additional stress on the various Highway Trust Funds. Major replacement of aging bridges and tunnels must now use the government’s general funds if they are to be repaired at all.

What will happen to the nation’s roads and highways during the 2020s when electric cars and trucks are expected to make up significant portions of the vehicles using the nation’s roadways? They are now given a free ride. That cannot continue. Solutions should not wait for the crisis to occur that may leave the highway fund in a hole that it may never be able to fill.

Although there appear to be several credible ways to resolve this emerging problem, we are talking about changing a nation’s entire system for funding its most significant transportation network upon which its economy is based. It will take time to work out the politics, procedures, and technologies of any system we settle on.

We should be doing this now before not after the crisis hits us.

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