Replace the Gas Tax with a "Ton-Mile Fee"

As we inexorably approach the day the Highway Trust Fund goes broke, more policy experts offer creative alternatives to the per gallon gasoline tax. Michael Webber of the Energy Institute at UT Austin describes his option in a New York Times op-ed.

2 minute read

December 27, 2013, 5:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Los Angeles Traffic - The Newhall Pass

Jeff Turner (JefferyTurner) / Flickr

Webber, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests that marrying the weight of the vehicle with the distance it travels makes more sense than attempting to increase the 18.4-cent gas tax, unchanged since 1993.

A better option is a “ton mile” fee based on how far vehicles travel and how heavy they are, so that all drivers pay their fair share to fix the resulting road damage. A one-ton car (which is typical for a compact car) that is driven 7,500 miles annually inflicts much less road damage than a two-ton truck that is driven 15,000 miles. While the gas tax captures some of that difference, as the truck driver would buy more fuel, it is not perfectly aligned.

As for the problems associated with vehicle-miles-traveled fees, he proposes a low-tech alternative:

(R)ather than using tracking devices, the fee could be assessed during an annual sticker renewal or inspection that is conducted at state level: All the inspector has to do is read the odometer, look up the gross vehicle weight of the car’s make and model, then assess the fee. With a fee on the order of two cents per ton mile, gas and diesel taxes could be eliminated entirely.

The advantages of the ton-mile-fee is that it encourages lighter vehicles (less wear on the roadway), reduced driving (fewer emissions) while ensuring that all vehicles, including the battery electrics like Tesla, pay their fair share.

Should Congress not act, be it on Webber's proposal or a straight-forward increase of the gas tax such as the bill proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) on Dec 3, 2013, Webber reminds us that by "2015, the highway fund is expected to spend more than $53 billion while collecting less than $39 billion, leaving a shortfall that Congress will be forced to make up."

Monday, December 23, 2013 in The New York Times - Opinion

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Wood-frame two-story rowhouses under construction.

Fair Housing Cannot Take a Back Seat to ‘Build, Baby, Build’

If we overlook fair housing principles in the plan to build US housing back better, we risk ending up right back where we started.

April 11, 2024 - James Jennings

Renewable Energy

Just Transition: Bringing Equity to the Clean Energy Conversation

A new report from the Environmental Defense Fund offers a roadmap for countries, energy companies, and other stakeholders to navigate the complexities of transitioning to clean energy while ensuring equity at every step of the process.

32 minutes ago - Environmental Defense Fund

Black car parked in bike lane

New App Pays Users to Report Illegally Parked Cars

A Swedish company is leveraging the power of crowdsourcing and the gig economy to enforce parking laws.

1 hour ago - Euronews

Close-up of row of slot machines in dark casino.

New York Casinos Gain Zoning Change Approval

The new process will let casino projects avoid undergoing a separate land use review in certain circumstances.

2 hours ago - The Real Deal

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

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.