2011-08-26

Co.Exist

Can Pay-Per-Mile Driving Programs Work?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood got a spanking when he suggested one, but test programs have received positive responses from drivers. Like it or not, with gas tax revenue declining it may be the only option.

As vehicle fuel efficiency increases and hybrids become more popular, governments are running into a problem: they’re making less money from gas taxes. One solution that has been tossed around for years is the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) program, which charges people fees based on how many miles they drive. It’s a good way to both discourage driving and to put the tax burden of paying for roads on the people who use them most.

VMT initiatives have been implemented on a trial basis in the Netherlands, the United States, and elsewhere, but so far, no country or state has adopted a full-fledged VMT program, even though drivers who participate in pilot programs often support them (the programs could theoretically replace gas and vehicle taxes, as well as tolls). But it’s hard to imagine that these programs will succeed in the near future.

By all accounts, a VMT program should have worked in the environmentally aware Netherlands. The country implemented a six-month trial in 2009 in the city of Eindhoven, where participants were given an Internet- and GPS-capable vehicle device that logged fuel efficiency, route, and time of day--and provided instant feedback to drivers. At the end of each month, drivers were presented with a bill that took into account time driven and costs of use. Trial participants didn’t actually have to pay, but IBM found that 70% of drivers improved driving behavior by avoiding rush-hour traffic and opting to use highways instead of local roads.

The system was supposed to go nationwide in 2012, but it was nixed when a new government was elected in 2010.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood first expressed interest in a VMT program in 2009 as a way to raise highway funds. But there was an uproar and the DOT quickly backtracked on the idea, stating, "The policy of taxing motorists based on how many miles they have traveled is not and will not be Obama administration policy." The DOT did not, apparently, want to deal with a mob of angry motorists who were worried that their vehicles would be outfitted with tracking devices.

Despite the DOT’s backtracking, VMT programs have, in fact, been tested in the U.S. Oregon piloted a program in 2007, and ultimately concluded that it was Earier this year, a proposal in Oregon for a VMT charge exclusively for electric cars stalled in committee. Minnesota, Texas, and Oregon have all explored the idea, and Iowa is currently in the midst of a four-year VMT study. "I’ve heard that the test audiences really love [the Iowa program]," says Deron Lovaas, the NRDC’s Federal Transportation Policy Director.

But can these studies ever make it out of the pilot stage and into the mainstream? "The state and federal gas tax took about a century to evolve so that they
are at levels that fund reasonable state transport programs and federal
transport programs," says Lovaas. "The only popular tax is no tax. Therefore, this is going to take a while. We’re talking about a transition that will take decades."

There are a number of ways that a successful VMT fee could be implemented: recording mileage through the odometer, using more Big Brother-like GPS units, only charging trucks (Germany is doing this), or charging vehicles different different amounts based on efficiency (an SUV might be charged more than a Prius).

Regardless of what they end up looking like, the excitement for VMT fees isn’t going away, especially in the revenue-hungry U.S. "For the first time in a long time, we’re looking at declining gasoline consumption over time," explains Lovaas. "That’s going to reduce transportation investments even more than they have already been reduced." Something is going to have to fill the gap.

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5 Comments

  • drseekerascom

    It seems a little disingenuous to claim that government is whining when fuel tax revenues decline and they’re searching for other avenues such as vehicle-miles-driven to fund highway maintenance.  It’s a given that we could use more cost effective road maintenance.  And it may not be impossible to wirelessly transmit VMT for tax purposes utilizing coded engine size and weight information any more wearisome than today tracking of cell phone communications…and yes, we may end up needing something like quantum computers to protect privacy.  Nevertheless, some technologists imagine that future privacy will be impossible in any communications. 
    On the other hand, I believe that a better solution would be to create a completely new type of transportation system all together.  Considering our horrifically congested highways, I wonder whether the DOT and U.S. Congress are asleep at the wheel if they think that they can ever build enough added lanes to handle the traffic, I believe that they are wrong headed.  Not only will it just create more congestion, but it will completely blight the American landscape. 
    I can give you one great solution for this developing traffic jam.  Helping to pay for the following idea is some estimated 80 billion dollars wasted by American drivers just sitting in traffic each year, cost of maintenance, weather related accidents, etc.  Yes, it will be possible to design new kinds of vehicles and smaller vehicles and driverless vehicle, but I also suggest that government side-step the present system, leaving it in place while they create the following system, and begin to design a much faster, less environmentally destructive, and lower maintenance EMS system (electromagnetic suspension).  Such a system works for trains and it will work, starting with larger trucks, to accelerate the transportation of goods three or more times faster than our present system. 
    Start by removing all those heavy trucks from the highway system and rest stops.  Place trailers on this new system just as they now place them on trains.  Create this system next to present highways without slowing or stopping present traffic.  Build the EMS system either through air evacuated tunnels for higher speeds and/or also over grass as has long been envisioned by inventors.  For the time being, present highways would continue to support passenger cars, vacationers, and local truck traffic.  In time passenger and other traffic could choose the highways for slower traveling and sight-seeing.  They could also choose to enter the EMS system at regular points for faster speeds.
    This system would lower cost of general accidents, weather accidents, and all traffic jams relatedto all those events and more.  Vacationers could again take it easy along the slower highways for sight-seeing, or choose to hit the EMS onramp for higher speeds.  All transportation systems would be increased several fold.  Long haul trucks would be removed from the highways and rest stops.  Long haul truckers would be replaced by at home local shuttle drivers transporting loads to North and South East/West EMS systems for now….back home same day or one or two days.  Once again America’s transportation system would be the envy of the world….until they do the same. 
    Wake up America.  China is doing something about the problem.  We can do it the same and better if we remember the days of President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he envisioned our Interstate Highway system.  Of course, we can put a large number of private planes in the sky for more traffic jams and accidents, and/or driverless vehicle systems now being envisioned on present highways, but this system has the immediate possibilities for much safer, faster, lower cost, both human and materials cost than most systems imagine to date, or you can just sit there in the traffic jams waiting and waiting and waiting…..Maybe you think we’ll discover a teleportation system soon?  On the other hand, It’s true that present day up and down over-passes and under-passes may save some money when your children no longer need to pay at the local amusement park when they can simply drive on American city freeways and over-passes and under-passes…..What’a you think?

    www.drwarpenstein.com

  • Bonniegmg

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  • Mr. Kim Gyr

    As petroleum and coal are bottled sunshine that took hundreds of
    millions of years to accumulate, we must go directly to the source, the
    sun, well before petroleum and coal run out! Global populations
    quadrupled in the last century as we burned fossil fuels, as did global
    warming! Many eminent scientists, engineers and politicians are leading
    us toward the world's first 100% sustainable global infrastructure -
    let's all get on board to design and build something that will work for
    all the future's children, rather than leave them with nothing!
    Please
    see suggestions that grew out of my own recovery from my heart stopping
    for 10 minutes as my forehead was being sutured under a general
    anesthetic following a car accident in Kenya in 1980, at www.greenmillennium.eu
    Unless
    you want your children and grandchildren to walk everywhere, eat scarce
    and poor quality food, and rub sticks together in the middle of winter
    to generate heat, we have got to create an infrastructure that depends
    only upon solar/wind energy ASAP! Considering that it is only 20 times
    the 5 generations that we will meet in our own families back to the Year
    Zero, what will we have in place for the next multiple of 20 by the
    Year 4000?
    We can all make a difference to their future - so let's do it NOW!

  • Mr. Kim Gyr

    As petroleum and coal are bottled sunshine that took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate, we must go directly to the source, the sun, well before petroleum and coal run out! Global populations quadrupled in the last century as we burned fossil fuels, as did global warming! Many eminent scientists, engineers and politicians are leading us toward the world's first 100% sustainable global infrastructure - let's all get on board to design and build something that will work for all the future's children, rather than leave them with nothing!
    Please see suggestions that grew out of my own recovery from my heart stopping for 10 minutes as my forehead was being sutured under a general anesthetic following a car accident in Kenya in 1980, at www.greenmillennium.eu
    Unless you want your children and grandchildren to walk everywhere, eat scarce and poor quality food, and rub sticks together in the middle of winter to generate heat, we have got to create an infrastructure that depends only upon solar/wind energy ASAP! Considering that it is only 20 times the 5 generations that we will meet in our own families back to the Year Zero, what will we have in place for the next multiple of 20 by the Year 4000?
    We can all make a difference to their future - no let's do it NOW!

  • electriciansandiego

    Personally, I feel that if the math were made correct, we could set the electric car charging price just as we have done with oil, set a new paradigm. Obviously we will run into the same problem eventually. Electric Car Charging Stationswill have their shot, unless we fall into a new energy source. You can call it a band-aide, but it sure is better than where we could be standing without that movement.

     I was approached from a man who was on the track to implementing plasma as a new renewable energy source. He could have been totally wrong, but he sounded very knowledgeable on the topic. Taking plasma into a source that renews with itself. I have his contact info, I just wonder if the kid was on the right track. I sure hope so.