The origins of road pricing are lost in the mists of history, but probably began thousands of years ago just after the first horse trod over the first road. Unloved by nearly all (all?) travelers, road pricing, nevertheless, has been with us ever since.
We pay tolls; many cities have congestion- or time-of-day pricing, most of them overseas. Road pricing schemes are also used to cut noise, pollution, or the number of vehicles themselves.
And while many efforts to institute road pricing of one form or another have failed because of vigorous opposition, new plans are launched all the time.
The latest is an effort by four member states of the 16-state I-95 Coalition, which includes all East Coast states as well as Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia
The intention is that, eventually, gasoline taxes could be supplanted by road pricing — in this format, it is called a mileage tax or VMT tax — for vehicle miles traveled. Oregon began a pilot program last year and California is launching one in July.
The miles traveled by 50 volunteers in each of the East Coast states would be logged, and “faux” invoiced monthly for their mileage. Drivers in Oregon — also volunteers — are actually charged 1.5 cents per mile. Gasoline taxes are deducted from their charges.
The problem for states is two-fold. Increased efficiency reduces gasoline consumption, and thus gasoline-tax revenues, which are the main source for road construction and maintenance.
Secondly, any kind of tax — equitable and sensible, or not — is widely opposed by a large fraction of the electorate. Federal gasoline taxes — which are contributed to the Highway Trust Fund, have remained at 18.3 cents per gallon since 1993.
Recently, the Mineta Transportation Institute poll found that a vehicle mileage tax of 1 cent per mile was acceptable to only 23 percent of those polled. Surprisingly, when pollsters asked about a “green mileage tax,” under which low polluting cars would pay “a bit less,” and higher pollution cars, “ a bit more,” support rose to 48 percent.
This kind of unpopularity might make fleets an easier target for VMT pricing. Heavier trucks have always paid taxes in addition to those at the pump, but government may now look more toward passenger cars and light trucks.
NAFA Fleet Management Association is planning on forming a small group to possibly meet with DOT on the issue. Good timing.
For more in-depth reading on this topic, check out this recent Washington Post article: East Coast states want to tax drivers’ travel, not their gas