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Expert Q&A: VMT Fee Transition and Implementation

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Funding for the Highway Trust Fund comes mostly from the federal tax on gas paid by drivers at the pump, which has not changed from 18.3 cents per gallon since 1993. As consumers drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, less revenue is flowing into the fund, which forces Congress to periodically bail it out—generally with unrelated revenues or deficit spending. To sustainably pay for Highway Trust Fund programs, BPC previously recommended that Congress raise the gas tax and transition to a vehicle miles traveled fee, or VMT, charging consumers for each mile they travel. Yet there are key questions – including an array of technical, institutional, and political challenges – about how best to facilitate that transition and implement a national VMT.

BPC has asked these experts to help us explore these important details:

  • Robert Atkinson – President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
  • Ulrik Boesen – Senior Policy Analyst, Tax Foundation
  • Carlos Braceras – Executive Director, Utah Department of Transportation
  • Michelle Godfrey – Education and Outreach Coordinator, Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Emeka Moneme – Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Innovation, Transurban
  • Barbara Rohde – Executive Director, Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance

See their responses below:

While fuel user fees cannot sustainably fund the Highway Trust Fund in the long term, the simplicity with which it is collected—by drivers at the pump—has many benefits. Can a VMT fee be collected in a similarly cost effective and efficient way?

Road usage does not stop at state boundaries. What have pilot programs taught us about how to make VMT collection interoperable between jurisdictions? How would VMT fees work with tolls, congestion pricing, and other fees?

A VMT fee would be unfamiliar to many consumers. In surveys of driver attitudes toward a VMT fee, privacy and data security concerns have been top of mind. How could these concerns be addressed? How should public education be handled in a transition to a VMT?

Some environmental groups, and electric vehicle proponents, believe it is too soon to transition away from gas taxes because they effectively tax carbon dioxide emissions and encourage electric vehicle ownership. How can the federal government marry the transition to a VMT with environmental goals?

Many different types of vehicles use the nation’s roads and highways. Should a VMT be applied to all vehicles equally?

Questions have been raised about the impact of a VMT fee on low-income and rural drivers. Would a VMT be more burdensome than the gas tax? How can the federal government ensure that these groups are not unduly burdened by the transition to a VMT?

What should the transition to a VMT look like? For example, how long would be needed? Should it begin with a mandatory phase-in process (e.g., when consumers buy new vehicles), or should it instead rely on voluntary opt-in strategies for several years prior to the initiation of mandatory adoption?

If Congress wants to ramp up the transition to a VMT, what policies should be included in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill?

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