A new study from the Rand Corp. -- requested by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and conducted as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program -- examines factors to consider in developing and initiating large-scale testing methods for road user charges based on vehicle miles traveled.
"Current federal and state motor-fuel excise taxes are beset with structural and political liabilities that have undermined their ability to raise sufficient transportation revenues over recent decades," according to the study. "In the coming years, expected increases in the fuel economy of conventional vehicles, along with the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles, are likely to further exacerbate this problem."
While some policymakers have advocated adopting a VMT fee system to replace current gasoline and diesel taxes by 2015, the study points out that more time than that is needed to fully examine the steps that would be involved. Several exploratory trials of charging VMT fees have already been conducted by the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Puget Sound Regional Council, and the University of Oregon.
A more comprehensive testing of mileage-based road user charges, however, would be needed and should take into account a number of key aspects, according to Rand Corp. These include both the scope and duration of those trials; who would oversee, manage, and conduct them; the cost involved; which modes of surface transportation should be tested; and the pricing policies to be analyzed. Such trials could be complemented by efforts in planning and policy guidance, technical research and development, and public education and outreach.
In addition, the study summarizes three possible frameworks for the ultimate transitioning to VMT fees. A state framework would entail using the trials to help interested states or groups of adjacent states develop their own systems. A federal framework would involve having the trials provide the federal government with ample information to develop a cost-effective nationwide system of VMT fees. Finally, a market framework would rely on opt-in strategies to launch a fully operational but initially voluntary national system of VMT fees that would seek to create a market for in-vehicle metering devices levying those charges and also supplying additional value-added services.
The 193-page study, "System Trials to Demonstrate Mile-Based Road Use Charges," is available at bit.ly/Rand-VMT.