Intelligent Solutions to America’s Transportation Challenges

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) recently forwarded recommendations to Congress re Authorization of the next Transportation Bill.

Here are two key outtakes from those recommendations pertaining to mileage-based user fees:

VMT-Based User Fee Demonstrations
The Smart Towns and Cities would provide ideal locations to conduct real-world demonstrations and operational testing of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT)-based user charge demonstration program.

According to the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, a VMT-based system “should be designed to facilitate integration with intelligent transportation systems, such as traveler information systems, and with emerging IT-based safety applications such as vehicle infrastructure integration programs” and “existing vehicle GPS systems.” The Commission further notes that “Pricing technology could be implemented in conjunction with a program such as IntelliDrive(SM)…, which, as envisioned, “will support secure communication between the vehicle and roadside to support mobility, traffic management, and traveler safety.” The Commission concludes that using technological advances to improve how people pay for their use of the transportation system “will enable the delivery of a host of other benefits, including real-time information to vehicle drivers to help reduce congestion, improve safety, and reduce emissions, to transit operators to improve the convenience and reliability of public transit, and to system managers to better monitor and manage the system and improve the allocation of transportation infrastructure resources.”

Congress should provide towns and cities receiving funding under the Smart Towns and City Streets Initiative with incentives to conduct broad-based demonstration programs of mileage-based user fees that could vary by time of day, pricing zone and other factors; be interoperable with other tolling, pricing, and intelligent transportation systems; and accommodate multiple forms of payment including cash, credit and debit cards, the Internet, and other integrated payment systems.
Conducting a VMT User Fee Research, Development and Demonstration Program –
The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, in its recently released report, unanimously called for an aggressive research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program to address technical and policy challenges associated with the possible deployment of a VMT-based user fee as a potential financing mechanism for our nation’s transportation system. The Commission recommends that the RD&D program be overseen by a multimodal body within U.S. DOT that combines technology, policy, tax administration, and systems expertise, with the ITS Joint Program Office cited as an example of one such body. The Commission further recommends the creation of an expert independent advisory committee to help review and advise on funding of R&D and pilot programs, to further explore policy issues, and to make specific recommendations to Congress regarding the best option(s), system design, required technology, and implementation plan.

Moving forward on a mileage-based system will require extensive coordination and consensus building among the public and private sectors. ITS America’s membership – which includes a broad cross-section of state and local transportation and planning agencies, university research centers, and industry leaders from automakers and tolling companies to GPS device manufacturers and real-time traffic data providers – provides a unique combination of research, technology, policy, and systems integration expertise that will be critical for advancing an effective mileage-based charging system. In addition, ITS America’s role as a national 501(c)(3) association and former Federal Advisory Committee to the U.S. DOT presents a unique, independent resource for providing research, technology and policy expertise and building consensus across the public and private sectors.

To effectively implement the RD&D program, U.S. DOT should utilize ITS America’s unique expertise and broad-based membership to review and advise on funding of R&D and pilot programs, to further explore policy issues, and to make specific recommendations to Congress regarding the best option(s), system design, required technology, and implementation plan. Furthermore, the U.S. DOT should engage ITS America in conducting a report that would identify:
  • Necessary protocols and systems to accommodate concerns regarding personal privacy;
  • Impacts of such a system on rural drivers who have no choice but to drive long distances;
  • Options related to the method and point of collection of a national VMT fee;
  • Methods to ensure the feasibility of multiple forms of payment;
  • The administrative costs associated with such a national program;
  • Whether it is more logical to transition all vehicles simultaneously or some vehicle classes first as early adopters;
  • How to ensure individuals are not paying both the gas tax and the VMT fee under any phased-in transition approach;
  • Impacts of a voluntary or mandatory use of the system;
  • Whether different systems for different vehicle types will be necessary or appropriate, including pilot programs for automobiles and different classes of trucks;
  • How to provide the positioning accuracy and availability necessary to support state, local, or private charges based on specific areas or lanes traveled; and
  • Other benefits that could be gained through integration of a VMT-based user fee system with other intelligent transportation systems and technologies including IntelliDrive.

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