An Argument Against VMT Fees as Replacements for Gas Taxes

Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fees are a bad way to pay for roads, according to an article by Joe Cortright.

2 minute read

February 6, 2018, 6:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Photobank gallery / Shutterstock

"While we desperately need a way to pay for roads that better reflects the value of the space we use, just moving to a new model isn’t enough. If we don’t get the new pricing system right, it could make many of our transportation problems worse," writes Joe Cortright.

According to Cortright, technology and consumer acceptance have advanced beyond the usefulness of the VMT fee. Instead, Cortright suggests a more holistic approach to pricing:

So as we think about how to design a road finance and pricing system to replace the gas tax (and other taxes), we ought to have a system that accounts for all  the cost-drivers associated with travel:  heavier vehicles that cause more road wear should pay higher fees, as should vehicles that pollute more. How much you pay to drive on a road should be related to how much that road costs to build and maintain. Use a congested urban highway at the peak hour, and you’ll pay a higher fee than if you use a rural road at 2 am.

The article critiques the VMT fee from a couple of additional angles, arguing that a VMT is unlikely to raise as much revenue as proponents of the scheme expect, and that the gas tax is already an effective carbon tax—a much more effective carbon tax than a VMT fee can be. Planetizen coverage of the first experiments with VMT fees includes stories from Oregon, Hawaii, and California. Other states could follow.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 in City Observatory

View of Interstate 205 bridge over Columbia River with Mt. Hood in background.

The Unceremonious Death of a Freeway Expansion Project

The end of an Oregon freeway project didn't get much fanfare, but the victory is worth celebrating.

September 19, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

A derelict sign on a barbed wire fence reads “Golf Course, Private, No Admittance.”

Converting Golf Courses to Housing Never as Easy as the Market Would Like

Thousands of golf courses have closed in recent years, but the obvious redevelopment opportunity represented by many defunct courses isn’t always easy to realize.

September 19, 2023 - The Business Journals

Aerial view of traffic in New York City entering Queens Midtown tunnel

Sadik-Khan: NYC Congestion Pricing Program Potentially ‘Transformative’—If Done Right

The former transportation commissioner says the city must ensure the program isn’t “all stick and no carrot to succeed.

September 18, 2023 - Curbed

Students walking on sunny walkway on college campus.

How College Campuses Fulfill an Urbanist Dream

Most college campuses in the United States are inherently walkable, mixing various uses with diverse housing options and transit networks.

49 minutes ago - The Daily

Aerial view of Interstate 35 with blurred traffic and Austin, Texas skyline in background with river in foreground at nighttime.

Austin in Race Against Time to Secure Freeway Cap Funding

With a major freeway expansion project looming, the Texas capital is seeking federal funding to build several freeway ‘decks’ downtown.

1 hour ago - Austin American-Statesman

Man riding bicycle wearing black helmet on New York City street.

Tracking the Rise of Biking in the U.S.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, most U.S. cities saw a sharp rise in the number of trips taken by bike, but a recent plateau indicates a need for better infrastructure to promote continued growth.

2 hours ago - Bloomberg CityLab

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.