VMT Fees: The Answer to Traffic Congestion?

Pricing road use by vehicle miles traveled (VMT) with higher fees for using congested roads could reduce travel time, claim researchers at Brookings.

"For decades, congestion has been trapping more people in their cars. From 2000 to 2005 the annual delay per traveler in the Washington area rose by a whole workday, to second worst in the nation. At the same time, highway and transit modernization is seriously underfunded. The federal gas tax - the primary source of revenue - is not indexed to inflation and has not increased since 1993. And states are reluctant to raise their gas taxes. With more fuel-efficient vehicles, revenues fell even as vehicle miles rose.

A better solution that would address both the congestion and financing problem would be road-use pricing that varies with congestion. Drivers would directly pay for the costs they impose on others. These charges would vary with VMT, the level of congestion, and the type of vehicle. The Congressional Budget Office recently confirmed that such pricing would reduce congestion, result in shorter and more reliable travel times, and enable governments to make more efficient infrastructure investments.

Road-use pricing is not a new idea, but it is gaining popularity as congestion increases, funding decreases and technological advances make implementation easier. However, two strong arguments against road-use pricing must be addressed, especially if differential charges are high enough to reduce congestion significantly."

Full Story: Road-use Fees Could Solve Our Transit Woes



Protecting Privacy With GPS-Based VMT Fee

Brookings has a suggestion that I haven't heard before for charging a GPS-based congestion fee in a way that protects privacy:

"The system might work like this: Vehicles would be fitted with a GPS device to record distance traveled, time and location of travel, and type of vehicle. This data would be sorted into various toll categories, and the device would wirelessly upload the totals to the gas pump when the motorist refueled. The pump would significantly discount the gas tax and add the appropriate road-use fees to the fuel bill. To further protect privacy, only category totals would be communicated to the governing agency via the pump. Tourists and others lacking the transponder would pay the full gas tax."

Would this deal with the privacy concerns that are now stopping GPS-based VMT? It would be very valuable, because congestion pricing could apply to all roads and not just to a downtown area, but until now, it has been stopped by privacy concerns.

Charles Siegel

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