Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 8:35 p.m.
Despite public concern over the Nevada Department of Transportation’s interest in finding a new way to fund road projects, only a handful of people showed up for a meeting about the study Thursday night.
The transportation department is studying ways the state could implement a Vehicle Miles Traveled Fee, essentially a way to track the number of miles each car is driven and then tax the owner based on those miles, instead of taxing gasoline.
People have raised a number of concerns about the concept, especially that the government could track exactly where and when people drive.
About 70 people showed up at a public meeting in Reno on March 30, department officials said, but at Thursday evening’s meeting at the Clark County Government Center, staff from the transportation department and reporters far outnumbered the public.
Some of those who did attend said they picked up some valuable information, especially the extent of the shortfall the state’s transportation budget faces if it continues to rely on the gas tax.
“What I didn’t know before was the dilemma that we face as a state,” said Las Vegas resident Mike Hazard. “I’d never really thought about it, and it appears we have to do something.”
The transportation department expects to be $40 million short by 2014, largely because of the increasing fuel efficiency of cars and the growing number of hybrid and electric vehicles.
After talking to transportation department staff, Hazard said, he still doesn’t like the idea of the government tracking where people drive with a GPS or “black box.”
But if a tax is collected based on the odometer reading of the car, he might be able to support it.
“I think there’s some alternatives to the GPS system that might work,” Hazard said. “I don’t know how the government would prevent invasion of privacy if GPS is used.”
Transportation department Deputy Director Scott Rawlins said that is exactly the kind of feedback the state wants with this study.
“We need to figure out how to protect the privacy of people in this country and state if we are going to go to a different form of a fee,” he said.
But privacy means different things to different people, which is why the study is needed to get input, Rawlins said. He noted that many people drive with GPS devices already in their cars and cell phones.
But the fundamental issue is that something needs to be done to replace the gas tax, Rawlins said.
“Raising the gas tax is a loosing battle,” he said. “The gas tax is not going to address the long-term problems.”
State Sen. Michael Schneider, who is the chair of the Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, also said the state needs to find an alternative to the gas tax.
“We need to adjust because the gas tax won’t be there in the next 10 to 20 years; it’s going away,” he said.
He said his wife recently bought a hybrid car, cutting in half the taxes she pays, but she still adds wear and tear to the roads.
Schneider said the Legislature will be looking into the issue of the gas tax in the next session, and he is encouraging the transportation department to go on with its study to find viable solutions.
“There’s some things that still need to be worked out, but that’s all part of this,” he said.
People can continue to submit comments to the department about the current study until May 28 by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Jason Van Havel, Study Coordinator, Nevada Department of Transportation, 1263 S. Stewart St., Carson City, NV 89712.