Mileage-Based User Fees for Transportation Funding

A Primer for State and Local Decisionmakers

by Paul Sorensen, Liisa Ecola, Martin Wachs

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Research Questions

  1. With growing shortfalls in federal and state funding for surface transportation programs, some states have begun to explore a transition from taxing fuel to taxing vehicle miles of travel. What can we learn from past and ongoing pilot projects exploring mileage-based user fees?
  2. What are the potential advantages of mileage fees?
  3. In selecting among the possible existing technologies for implementing mileage fees, what trade-offs must transportation planners consider?
  4. What are some promising strategies to reduce system cost of and increase public support for mileage fees?

Abstract

This primer presents some promising and innovative mileage fee system designs and transition strategies. For states or localities that are just beginning to consider the idea of mileage fees, awareness of these strategies can help determine whether shifting from fuel taxes to mileage fees merits further consideration. For jurisdictions already engaged in detailed assessments of mileage fees, these concepts can help refine system design — with the ultimate aim of reducing costs and building public support.

Key Findings

Mileage Fees Would Offer a Significantly More Stable Source of Surface Transportation Funding in Future Decades, and Could Support Additional Policy Goals as Well.

  • Mileage fees could support fee structures that would reduce traffic congestion, excessive road wear, and harmful emissions.
  • Mileage-metering equipment could provide new, value-added amenities for drivers.
  • A mileage-fee system could generate a wealth of anonymous travel data to support enhanced transportation planning and operations.

Recommendations

The authors offer 15 promising strategies for reducing system cost of and increasing public support for mileage fees.

  • Conduct trials and educational outreach.
  • Include elected officials in trials.
  • Engage stakeholders in system planning.
  • Enroll privacy watchdogs.
  • Begin with a simple odometer-based system.
  • Provide drivers with a choice of technologies.
  • Make mileage fees a smartphone app.
  • Design the system to support value-added features.
  • Integrate with ITS investments.
  • Encourage competition among vendors.
  • Initiate a transition with voluntary adoption.
  • Focus initially on alternative-fuel vehicles.
  • Provide a fixed-fee option.
  • Convert other funding mechanisms to per-mile fees.
  • Work with other states to develop a multijurisdictional system.

Author Statement

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