Ginger Goodin, senior research engineer and division head for planning of the Texas Transportation Institute, believes there would be some real benefits to changing how the U.S. collects money for its transportation infrastructure, primarily by the implementation of a mileage-based user fee in place of the current gas tax.
Goodin reported March 22 on all the research compiled regarding mileage-based user fees and discussed what it all means during a webinar presentation titled "Moving to a New Road User Fee System: Opportunities and Challenges." The webinar was sponsored by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
"It's great that fuel efficiency is going up and we're getting more miles per gallon as drivers," Goodin said. "But that has a real effect on the gas tax. We have peaked in terms of revenue, and you can see it is just an unsustainable revenue source. A user fee could be the right answer."
Goodin was quick to point out that several states have already tested the mileage-based user fee technology to see how it would work if actually implemented.
"We have 16 states that have looked at some sort of legislation dealing with mileage-based user fees," Goodin said. "Oregon DOT has been a leader with its groundbreaking pilot program. Minnesota DOT has tested using a smart phone app to see how this would work. We've seen some great pilot programs and we'll see more."
Goodin acknowledges there are some challenges in dealing with a transition to mileage-based user fees, most notably public and political resistance. The most common issues that arise when discussing this user fee are the lack of understanding on why this would be necessary, privacy issues, a loss of an incentive for fuel efficiency, the cost of technology and administration, and whether or not this would be equitable and fair to drivers. However, with more time for pilot programs and more education, Goodin thinks public acceptance could grow.
In order to stress the importance of technology innovation, Goodin compared the mileage-based user fee technology to cell phones.
"Cell phones and usage should be a lesson for transportation," she said. "Look where we were with cell phones 20 years ago. The market for transportation tech services is growing. Technologies are becoming more integrated, and system development should be market driven. There will always be a segment of the population that is technology averse."
"My challenge to you as leaders and those who can influence the policy discussion is to keep the conversation going and make sure we don't just drop this because people initially find the idea offensive or unclear," Goodin said. "We have a lot of discovery on this yet to do."