In response to a request from the California Department of Transportation, 5,000 California drivers signed up for the state’s nine month pilot program to replace the state’s gas tax with a charge based on vehicle miles traveled. Starting July 1 of this year, the volunteers will make simulated payments based on how many miles they travel. Participants include drivers from every part of the state and from every socioeconomic background, according to Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans executive director. “The opportunity to provide valuable input and evaluate the viability of a mileage-based user fee system demonstrates the commitment that Californians have to our roads and keeping them well maintained,” said Dougherty. Findings from the program will be reported to the State Legislature and the California Transportation Commission at the end of the program in March 2017. Ultimately it will be up to the State Legislature to decide whether to switch from the current state gas tax to a full-scale, road charge program.
California’s gas and diesel taxes bring in $2.3 billion per year to fund operation and maintenance and capital costs on California’s 50,000 lane miles and 13,000 bridges, leaving nearly $5.7 billion in unfunded repairs each year. The VMT program starts just after the California Transportation Commission voted in May to cut planned road and transit projects totaling $754 million and delayed another $755 million of planned work from the state’s five-year transportation plan because of a decrease in gasoline tax revenues due to improved gas mileage and a drop in fuel prices.
Participants in the study, including 50 members of the California Trucking Association, pick from six simulated payment options, including a time permit that allows unlimited travel for a specific period, a mileage permit, and an odometer-based charge. Options to record the vehicle mileage include a device that plugs into the vehicle’s electronics, a smartphone app, and one that records mileage through the onboard technology found on most new vehicles.
At the federal level, FHWA is considering applications from other states for a $1.5 million grant to fund a mileage fee pilot program, including along the I-95 Corridor that runs from Florida to Maine. According to a survey last March of motorists across the country, a large majority support a shift to some form of road user fee from the gas tax, realizing that new ways are needed to fund construction and maintenance of surface transportation infrastructure in the US.