As electric scooters become more prevalent around the state they face government regulation including the ability to collect data on the scooter’s use. While the data collection is controversial enough because it could reveal user’s personal habits, the problems related to scooter use and convenient data collection also could set up a scooter tax.

While some communities ban the scooters others are trying to work out accommodations for their use. In some cases, such as Los Angeles, officials argue that information on every trip the scooters make is necessary to monitor scooter use and safety issues.. 

Fair warning. One way government officials can insist they need the information is for purposes of taxation.

Los Angeles is considering a tax on Uber and Lyft arguing that the ride sharing services don’t pay their share of maintaining the roads. The scooters have been the source of complaints from pedestrians and motorists so a tax system that could limit their use or provide extra patrols to monitor the scooters proper use is hardly unimaginable.

In fact, Paris, France already is exploring a scooter tax depending on the number of vehicles a company owns.

However, another avenue would be a per mile tax. Seeking a tax on scooters might be used to mute opposition to collecting information; the argument being the mileage data is necessary for taxation. While the proposals to gather information on the scooters would not reveal names, we are told; privacy advocates say there is still a problem.

In a letter to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), the Center for Democracy and Technology warned, “Location information is among the most sensitive data, especially when collected over extended periods of time. People’s movements from place to place can reveal sexual partners, religious activities, and health information.”

Serious stuff, and reason for concern, even if, as the LADOT claims, the data will be treated as sensitive and confidential and individual rides will not be published on the city’s open data website.

Taxing by mile is not a new concept. In fact, Caltrans is studying whether taxing miles driven is a better way to fund roads than a gasoline tax. A paper issued by Caltrans in December of 2017  reported on a pilot program on a per-mile tax. The privacy issue was raised in that study, as well.

Ironically, one of the protests raised by scooter companies is that the data collection on scooters would be greater than data collection for auto drivers and public commuters. That argument partially goes away if the per-mile tax is applied to cars, as well.

The medium to combat the concerns about data collection may be that tried and true method used by government officials for millenniums—we need the info  to levy taxes.