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The National Academies

NCHRP 19-18 [Pending]

Transitioning Fuel Tax Assessments to a Road Usage Charge

  Project Data
Funds: $600,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Dianne Schwager

BACKGROUND
 
State departments of transportation (DOTs) and other transportation agencies are interested in determining a viable alternative to motor fuel taxes as the primary funding source for transportation. While motor fuel taxes served as an effective and efficient revenue source during much of the 20th century, automobile and truck fuel efficiency is improving and electric and hybrid vehicle registrations are growing rapidly, thus eroding the funding base. In addition, the federal motor fuel tax has not been increased since 1992. The costs for transportation system maintenance and improvements require adequate, reliable funding that is socially equitable. Road usage charging could provide a funding mechanism for surface transportation.
 
For the past two decades, a number of states throughout the United States have been considering and, more recently, pilot testing road usage charging. Some initiatives have been state-based and others involve multi-state consortia. A key conclusion of the efforts, to date, is that while a road usage charge funding approach can work, implementation will be complicated.
 
Many possible paths for implementation exist. The figure below highlights some of the options for road usage charging (RUC) implementation currently being considered. 
Source: The Eastern Transportation Coalition

Some implementation strategies will require new and emerging technologies to administer road usage charge programs for passenger and commercial vehicles. These technologies, which in some cases are still evolving, have implications for
revenue collection, revenue distribution across jurisdictions, enforcement, administrative efficiency, equity, privacy, and data security. Implementation of appropriate technologies and administrative protocols necessitates many considerations and presents challenges.   
 
Challenges related to political and public acceptance of road usage charging cannot be overstated. Implementation will require effective communication and education at many levels. The public and policy makers must see proposed changes in transportation funding as fair, transparent, and equitable because the charges will be borne across all social and economic parts of society. 
 
Research is needed to help the many partners and stakeholders in the public and private sectors understand the implications and outcomes of road usage charging. These include, but are not limited to, state and local DOTs, departments of motor vehicles, commissions, state legislatures, vehicle manufacturers, transportation construction industry, tolling authorities, driver advocacy groups, and those tasked with defining the technical and institutional elements needed to implement road usage charging programs.
 
OBJECTIVE
 
The objective of this research is to evaluate and present viable paths and strategies for implementing road usage charging at the state, multi-state, and regional levels that generate revenues that could supplement, and/or may ultimately replace, motor fuel taxes as the primary funding source for surface transportation. The research should consider the differences among states and the near- and longer-term considerations and challenges to changes in transportation funding. The research should build on the evolving innovations for domestic and international research and experiences that may provide a basis for establishing road usage charging as a more sustainable funding mechanism for transportation expenditures and investments. 
 
The final deliverable(s) should address:
  • Considerations and challenges (i.e., pros and cons) of alternative paths and strategies to successfully implement a road usage charging program for different classes of vehicles. These may vary by state (or groups of states) and include system architecture, rate setting approaches, technology options, revenue forecasting (e.g., bonding), and the ability to adapt to future economic and political changes.
  • Best practices and benefits for implementing road usage charging at a multi-state level including strategies that may include standards development and concepts for revenue distribution, auditing, and enforcement. This should include provisions for interoperability, reciprocity, and reconciliation of user accounts among states.
  • Creation of a vendor-agnostic approach for the implementation of road usage charging by states and regions.
  • Methods to significantly reduce costs of revenue collection from road usage charging, such as:
    • Adoption of new technologies that facilitate administrative efficiency and effectiveness, including, but not limited to, blockchain.
    • Combining road usage charging with other transportation services such as corridor tolling, area charges, and fees for mobility-related services.
    • System enforcement that increases compliance and reduces revenue leakage.
    • Inclusion of private sector providers in the implementation of road usage charging to insure a market approach that promotes customer choices, avoids monopolies, and ensures cost effective programs. 
  • Equity considerations associated with road usage charging that affect (1) underrepresented communities defined by income and ethnicity, (2) rural, suburban and urban areas, and (3) type of business.
  • Considerations and approaches for addressing privacy, data, and cyber-security.
  • Suggestions for effective communication strategies including  acceptable terminology for road usage charging and public outreach approaches.
  • Political and public acceptance factors that will facilitate the transition to road usage charging, such as voluntary vs mandatory initiatives.
  • Evaluation of the costs and benefits and trade-offs for different methods and approaches for mileage collection and payment.
  • Assessment of how road usage charging would affect the motor carriers given their heavily regulated and complex operating environment.
  • Implications of road usage charging for automated vehicles and other transportation devices.
  • Opportunities and challenges for integrating road usage charging with congestion pricing and tolling.

RESEARCH PLAN

 

Proposers are asked to develop and present a detailed research plan for accomplishing the project objective.  The work proposed must be divided into tasks and proposers must describe the work proposed in each task. Proposers are expected to present a research plan that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals shall: (1) present the proposer’s current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the topic and issues, and the soundness of their approach for meeting the research objectives; (2) identify data and data sources that may be used to undertake this research; and (3) propose a format(s) of the final research product(s).  

  • An interim report and meeting with the NCHRP project panel. The Interim deliverable should address (1) analyses and results of completed tasks, (2) the remaining research tasks, (3) an outline of the final research product(s), and (4) strategies for dissemination and implementation of the final research deliverables. The panel meeting will take place after the panel review of the interim report. The interim report and panel meeting should occur after the expenditure of no more than 40 percent of the project budget.
  • Final deliverable(s) should include a compelling executive summary and be readily usable by key stakeholders interested in pursuing implementation of road usage charging (e.g., fact sheets, videos, guidelines for market research, etc.).
  • A PowerPoint presentation suitable for a webinar.
  • A technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.

Status: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP. The panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.

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