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Bill to set up VMT user fee pilot program introduced

The trucking industry has long opposed a VMT user fee, saying such fees have been costly to administer, enforce and comply with. (The Trucker file photo)

The Trucker News Services

12/9/2013

WASINGTON — Rep Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who introduce a bill to raise the gasoline and diesel fuel taxes by 15 cents over the next two years, has also introduced a bill to allow Congress to create a vehicle miles traveled user fee pilot program to study now such as system would work on a large scale level.

This week two bills were introduced, aimed at raising revenue to more robustly invest in the nation's aging transportation infrastructure.

Oregon has been a leader in the matter of mileage-based user fees.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has conducted multiple VMT pilots, the most recent of which began in November 2012. ODOT officials focused on "choice, transparency, ease of use and protection of privacy" for the most recent pilot.

In addition, Oregon's state Legislature in July passed a measure that would make available to the public a voluntary mileage-based user fee system in place of a state fuel excise tax.

The program allows up to 5,000 drivers the option of trying the system.

Blumenauer told Washington publication The Hill that a VMT system is a long-term solution to the funding gaps that inevitably occur with the gas tax.

"As we extend the gas tax, we must also think about how to replace it with something more sustainable," Blumenauer said, according to The Hill. "The best candidate would be the vehicle miles traveled fee being explored by pilot projects in Oregon and implemented there on a voluntary basis next year."

In the bill, Blumenauer noted that a 2009 report of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission recommended a transition away from the fuel tax to a more stable funding source, noting that a mileage-based fee system is the consensus choice for policy leaders.

In citing a need to an alternative resource source for the Highway Trust Fund, Blumenauer said that according to the Congressional Budget Office, the revenue raised from the gas tax since its last increase in 1992 has lost over one-third of its purchasing power because of increasing fuel efficiency, changing transportation patterns and inflation.

The trucking industry has long had concerns about a vehicle miles traveled user fee.

“While the American Trucking Associations believes that Congress should focus on increasing the fuel tax to address short-term funding challenges, we recognize that the fuel tax may not be viable over the long term, particularly for automobiles,” Sean McNally, ATA vice president of communications and press secretary, said. “We have many concerns with the VMT fee, including collection costs, privacy and information security issues, significant potential for evasion and various very difficult institutional issues, including the potential for a lack of interstate interoperability. We look forward to working with Rep. Blumenauer and other stakeholders to design a robust pilot program that thoroughly evaluates the many challenges facing a VMT fee, as a prerequisite for implementation.”

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says truckers acknowledge the need for vehicles to pay their fair share, but a VMT tax for everyone may not be the way to go.

“We think that while certainly we have vehicles that use the road that don’t pay taxes at all – they need to pay something into the system. But at this point, the multitude of issues raised by VMT on a grand scheme are a little too big of a hill to climb right now,” Spencer told OOIDA’s Landline Magazine.

A VMT tax would essentially convert all roads into toll roads. Truckers and other highway users should also be concerned about privacy since a VMT tax would likely come with some sort of tracking system via satellite, computer or some other device, the magazine said.

The Blumenauer VMT bill attempts to address the privacy issue, but leaves the decision up to states receiving the pilot program grants to sort it out.

“On a vehicle-mile tax, we’re a little apprehensive about that,” Spencer told Landline, adding that a VMT tax or toll could be set up to charge trucks a whole lot more than they currently pay.

“For the trucker going down the road, that driver is performing a needed task, but the true beneficiaries of that truck going down the road are all of us, the general population,” Spencer said. “Our transportation system is designed to generate economic activity. It’s not there simply for a truck to drive on. That’s an important point for those who see trucks as cash cows.”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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