San Diego officials criticize per-mile tax proposal over privacy, funding concerns

Money from the proposal would fund a massive $160 billion plan to expand transit services

A proposed per-mile tax by San Diego lawmakers for a "road charge" threatens privacy rights, some county officials say. 

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The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) proposal seeks to apply a fee to drivers for a set price-per-mile traveled within the county. The money gained from this proposal would go toward a massive $160 billion plan that looks to expand transit services throughout the region. 

However, the cost for that proposal may be too high for local residents – not in money, but in personal freedoms. 

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"For SANDAG, and for the proposed track and tax that they’re doing, they’re looking at what kind of technology they’re going to use to track individuals, and it’s not going to be on a voluntary basis," Ben Mills, Land Use and Environmental Planning manager for the county, told Fox Business. "It’ll be for all drivers on local roads." 

The state bill, which provided a basis for the SANDAG pilot program, would also see changes that will introduce state-level track and taxes – also not voluntary – by 2026. 

"That’s just a first step toward what’s going to happen in the future," Mills said. 

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San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond understands that technology will increasingly allow for companies and government to track individuals, with cars becoming "computers on wheels" in the not-so-distant future, but he believes the current government needs to consider these issues when proposing new plans. 

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Just last year, San Diego had to roll back a program that installed cameras on street lights after privacy advocates raised concerns over the use of the "smart streetlights" after police gained access to the cameras and data. 

Desmond’s criticism extends beyond just the privacy issue: The county also has not used the money to improve roads or technology, which it promised to do when it started making proposals like this. 

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"Every one of these taxes that has been proposed, they’ve said ‘we’re going to use this money to fix the roads and interstates,’ but they have not been doing that," Desmond said. "They’ve been spending the vast majority on rails and buses and other types of transit." 

"They’re trying to get us all to move into alternative transportation modes … but they haven’t been fulfilling the promise of putting these dollars towards the roads and toward this infrastructure," he added. 

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The plan would add another few cents onto already existing taxes. What the county believes is just a 2-cent addition piles up to create around $0.75 per mile, including an existing state-level gas tax of $0.51.1 per gallon that increased last week from $0.50.5. 

Desmond believes the state needs to invest the money in roads and technology – including self-driving cars – that will allow the residents of San Diego to maintain the convenience of travel that they want. 

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"They use it on these mass transit systems that, quite frankly, the people of Southern California have not and will not embrace," Desmond said.