Dutch authorities plan to charge car drivers per kilometer they drive

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Over the next few years, all road users in the Netherlands will start to pay for using their vehicle rather than for owning it.

The kilometer charge will halve the number of traffic jams and benefit the environment, claims the Dutch Ministry of Transportation.

Dutch drivers will be first in Europe to start paying according to the kilometers they drive rather than for owning a car, if a legislative proposal submitted to the lower house of the country’s parliament goes through.

The kilometer charge would replace road tax and purchase tax in 2012. The idea is to cut CO2 emissions while halving traffic jams in what is one of Europe’s most congested road networks.

The transport ministry expects the number of kilometers traveled to drop by 15% as the charge on the distance driven will lead people to opt more readily for public transport. This would reduce carbon and fine particle emissions by over 10%, it estimates.

The amount of the tariff will depend on the CO2 emissions produced by a passenger car, or on weight for other vehicles. Certain vehicles like taxis, buses and motorcycles will be exempt from the charge, while an alternative system will be set up for foreign vehicles.

A driver of a standard car would initially be charged three cents per kilometer, increasing to 6.7 cents in 2018, according to the proposed law. Legislation introducing rush-hour surcharges specific to a location could be introduced later on, the Ministry of Transport said.

The kilometers will be tracked with a GPS device to be installed in every vehicle. This will record each journey and send the information to a billing agency.

The only concern that I would have here is this GPS system for it will not just, and that much is obvious, be able to be used for tracking as regards to payment. It will also be able to track every driver as to where they are, when, and how fast they drive, etc. I see this as a serious invasion of privacy.

Nevertheless, most people will end up paying less, as the charge will not exceed current taxes and the abolition of the purchase tax will slash a quarter off a car’s price, the ministry argues. All the revenue collected from the charge would go directly to building roads, railways and other transport infrastructure.

The kilometer charge has been hotly debated for years due to privacy concerns, but the transport ministry offered assurances that information sent via the GPS would be "legally and technically protected".

"The authorities will not have access to any journey details and will not be able to track any vehicles. So the privacy of road users will be guaranteed," it said in a statement.

And pigs fly...

But environmentalists argued that future transport IT to help cut emissions will ultimately not be any more invasive than the ability to send a text via mobile phone.

"People will worry that the system heralds the arrival of Big Brother, but our mobile phone handsets already double as a highly-effective means of tracking our movements," said the UK Environmental Transport Association (ETA).

The UK will always play such valid fears as to possible data misuse by the authorities down. Every time that any such concerns are raised they have immediately the answers and claim that only this or that will be tracked but nothing more. They really must think everyone living in this country as stupid.

While a “pay-as-you-drive” charge might be beneficial for both the environment and the drivers' pocketbook I cannot help but think that this is just the beginning of tracking of various things.

Certainly I am well aware that my cell phone can be tracked (one of the reasons it is a prepaid one) and even the Oyster Card that I use for the London Transport Network can track me as well as to where I go and when and by what means, whether by bus or tube, tram or railroad.

However, all the assurances, especially when it comes to the British government, are totally void for we have seen what is being done here in the name of “war against terrorism”.

I have had dealings with vehicles that have GPS trackers on board and while the idea may only be to track for one specific purpose the software allows to do so much more, such as checking on what speed was used when and where, where the vehicle was at this or that time of the day, and much more.

From a privacy point this does very much concern me even though I am not a car owner or -driver but a cyclist.

While charging per kilometer or mile – whichever measuring system may be in use – sounds a very good idea, in principle, as to getting people to use the car less I wonder whether we cannot find other ways to persuade people to leave the car and use alternatives.

Then again, seeing the love affair that people in Britain, and other places, have with the motorcar I guess the answer to that is that there is no other way, bar legislating in one way or the other.

© 2009