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Continued: Technology stalls Minnesota's statewide mileage tax idea

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 28, 2013 - 7:50 AM

Lanes lives in a rural area near Annandale. He said when he left for his job in Monticello, Minn., he’d sometimes drive 5 or 6 miles before his smartphone picked up a GPS signal to log miles.

“I don’t know how they would validate that people are using the GPS all the time,” he said.

Failure to count miles could cost the state revenue in real life, but counting too many miles could cost drivers money. Nearly 10 percent of the study’s participants saw more miles recorded on their smartphones than on their odometers. Some had more than one trip running and adding miles on their device at the same time.

Others found that the state smartphone often came unplugged. “At one point it was unplugged for three weeks,” said Betsy Hodge, 40, of Hanover.

“It helped if you were a geek and liked this kind of stuff,” said Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, ranking Republican on the House Transportation Finance Committee, who participated in the study. “Until technology changes so much that it’s automatically built into the car, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Fixing errors

MnDOT learned that it would need to spend time and money correcting billing errors if a mileage tax were levied.

“We’re used to building roads,” said Johnson. “MnDOT doesn’t have an individual customer service approach.”

Hodge isn’t sure correcting errors will satisfy the general driving public.

“You have a high expectation of accuracy and I think people ... would have a hard time with that,” she said.

But even some critics gave the Legislature and MnDOT credit for conducting the study on the potential of mileage fees.

“It could eventually work if you can get some of the glitches worked out,” Hodge said.

Gillen said MnDOT deserved “huge applause ... for trying to plan ahead. Right now, the technology is just not where it needs to be to make it work.”

Privacy protections

The fear that drivers concerned about privacy would be unwilling to let government track trips proved overblown.

“Sharing private data was not the issue in their minds,” the study concluded. “They were concerned about the ability of the state to secure and protect this information from others with harmful intentions.”

The volunteers included people who were comfortable with online shopping and may have been less concerned about trip security than drivers from the general public. Johnson said the study tried to correct for that bias by including more cautious participants.

“I’m shocked at the level of data they shared,” he said of drivers in the study.

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