(Headline USA) Despite privacy concerns and dysfunctional models, some states are determined to replace gas taxes with taxes for every mile driven, a model that requires tracking devices to monitor the movement of citizens.
Evan Burroughs has spent eight years touting the virtues of an Oregon pilot program charging motorists by the distance their vehicle travels rather than the gas it guzzles, yet his own mother still hasn’t bought in.
Margaret Burroughs, 85, said she has no intention of inserting a tracking device on her Nissan Murano to record the miles she drives to get groceries or attend needlepoint meetings.
Burroughs’ reluctance exemplifies the myriad hurdles U.S. states face as they experiment with road usage charging programs aimed at supplementing gas taxes, which are generating less each year, in part due to increased fuel efficiency and the rise of electric cars.
The federal government is about to pilot its own such program, funded by $125 million from the infrastructure measure Biden signed in November 2021.
So far, only three states — Oregon, Utah and Virginia — are generating revenue from road usage charges, despite the looming threat of an ever-widening gap between states’ gas tax proceeds and their transportation budgets. Hawaii will soon become the fourth. Without action, the gap could reach $67 billion by 2050 due to fuel efficiency alone, Boston-based CDM Smith estimates.
Many states have implemented measures that respect citizen’s privacy while capturing more funds to pay for infrastructure programs, such as imposing additional taxes or registration fees on electric vehicles and, more recently, adding per-kilowatt-hour taxes to electricity accessed at public charging stations.
Last year, Colorado began adding a 27-cent tax to home deliveries from Amazon and other online retailers to help fund transportation projects. Some states also are testing electronic tolling systems.
Despite these options, road usage charges — also known as mileage-based user fees, distance-based fees or vehicle-miles-traveled taxes — which require tracking devices to be installed in cars, are attracting the bulk of the academic attention, research dollars and legislative activity.
Doug Shinkle, transportation program director at the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, predicts that after some 20 years of anticipation, more than a decade of pilot projects and years of voluntary participation, states will soon need to make the programs mandatory.
“The impetus at this point is less about collecting revenue than about establishing these systems, working out the kinks, getting the public comfortable with it, expanding awareness around it,” he said.
Electric car sales in the U.S. rose from just 0.1% of total car sales in 2011 to 4.6% in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. S&P Global Mobility forecasts they will make up 40% of the sales by 2030, while other projections suggest an even higher share.
Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation analyst at the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, said the failure of states to convert years of research into even one fully functional, mandatory program by now raises questions about whether road usage charging can really work.
“There’s no program design that I have seen that I think can be implemented at scale in a way that is publicly acceptable,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that a program can’t be designed to do so, but I feel like if you can’t even conceive of the program architecture that seems like something that would work, you probably shouldn’t put too much faith in it.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press