I’ve written about the importance of charging road users for their road use for some time. Moving toward a truly user-pays system will require significant reform. For U.S. highways, federal and state fuel taxes provide the bulk of the funding. While the idea behind levying an excise tax on gasoline to fund roads was rooted in user-pays, political developments and new technology necessitate the move away from user taxes and toward more direct, and distance-based, user fees.
Recently, road usage charges became an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race, with some Republican activists trying and failing to paint the Libertarian candidate as a big-government tool for broadly suggesting that the state investigate the viability of replacing fuel and sales tax road funding with a user charge. Oregon has become the first state in the nation to introduce a user charge pilot program and many others are investigating similar programs. High-tech user charges such as all-electronic tolling and GPS-based charging systems are increasingly being seen as the next logical move for road revenue collection.
On March 12, the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA) will hold a day-long conference featuring leading practitioners, such as former AASHTO COO and current MBUFA chairman Jack Basso, and politicians, such as Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wisc.), Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The conference will be held in downtown Washington, D.C. Anyone interested in learning about the latest road charging developments — both technological and political — should consider attending this conference. Registration details can be found here.