Can Taxing Trucks by the Mile Help Save Transportation Funding?

(Stateline) - Many problems with VMT are not an issue with trucks, say researchers testing the solution in New York State.

Transportation researcher Richard Mudge is looking for ways to make sure states can afford to fix and build roads and bridges, even as gas taxes become less effective. Like other experts, he wants to start taxing vehicles for how far they drive, instead of the current system based on how much gas they use. The difference is that Mudge wants to start using the system on trucks, not cars.

Fuel taxes, levied by states and the federal government, provide most of the revenue for fixing and building the country's roads and bridges. But taxing fuel by the gallon is becoming an unreliable way to raise money. That is partially because politicians do not want to raise the taxes, even by a few pennies a gallon. It is also because increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles are using less gas; the new breed of electric cars do not use any gas at all.

That is one reason why researchers like Mudge are exploring the alternative of charging drivers by vehicle-miles traveled, called "VMT" in industry shorthand. Previous experiments found many problems with using that system for cars: It requires drivers to install new equipment; drivers do not like the state following their travels; and it just cost too much.

But most of those problems are not an issue with trucks, says Mudge, who recently finished a study with trucking companies in New York state to test the idea. Many trucks are already equipped with off-the-shelf satellite navigation devices that are relatively cheap. Privacy is less of a concern, because truck drivers are on the clock. And trucking companies must already report their mileage to government regulators.

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