Research Rest-Stop │ A Call for Mileage-Based Fees

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


The debate over the current gas tax is well known. The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, a rate that has not increased since 1993. While gas tax is the primary source of transportation funding, there are issues with relying solely on this tax. Cars today often get better mileage than they did in the past. More drivers are turning to electric vehicles to save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With less reliance on the gas tax and funding still needed to support transportation investments, the issue then becomes one of how revenue can be captured in different ways and from new sources.

A recent Transportation Research Board Journal paper by two University of Iowa professors Paul Hanley and Jon Kuhl, presents the concept of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fees, which would charge drivers based on how many miles they travel rather than how much gas their vehicles consume. Using a VMT-based fee system allows for drivers of all vehicles, including electric vehicles, to be charged based on how much they drive and use the roads.

As part of Hanley and Kuhl’s research, they ran a field study, with support from the federal government, to see if a VMT-based fee system could work on a national level. Their findings show that participants in the pilot support the concept of paying for their road use. Under the study, participants collectively drove 21 million miles on U.S. roads, which equals about 9,000 miles per driver. With user charges applied based on miles driven, this has the potential to raise revenue for the U.S. transportation system.


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