Due to several factors, the highway funds for federal, state, and local transportation agencies have been depleted. Such factors include an increase in fuel efficient and alternative fueled vehicles, as well as financing dependent on a non-indexed gas tax (a federal gasoline tax not increased since 1993). The bottom line is that without a viable long-term finance approach these funds will continue to diminish. Since funding sources for transportation fail to adequately support the current and future needs of infrastructure construction and maintenance, a new technique is being developed to fairly collect these funds that will be sustainable and independent of or in lieu of the fuel tax.
Road Usage Charge (RUC) or road usage fees are sustainable finance tools that can replace or augment the gasoline and diesel taxes.
The FHWA defines VMT fees (aka RUC) as "distance-based fees levied on a vehicle user for use of a roadway system. As opposed to tolls, which are facility specific and not necessarily levied strictly on a per-mile basis, these fees are based on the distance driven on a defined network of roadways."
The road usage fees can be based upon miles traveled (flat rate per mile) or include other factors such as region, emissions, and time of day. These fees could even help the consumer by providing traffic or routing information, weather updates, fleet tracking, driving habits reporting, and auto theft recovery.
The final national interoperable solution will employ tolls in conjunction with RUC to provide the most equitable and fair mechanism to collect funds from motorists. To gain initial public acceptance, however, RUC and tolling will most likely be parallel solutions with the initial RUC component providing a flat or indexed design. While the technique to administer the user fees may utilize many of the same processes and technology as tolling (AVI, AVC, VES, etc.), RUC may also use non-tolling techniques (OBU, V2V, V2I, GPS, Bluetooth, Smartphones).
However, technology is not the roadblock to implement the RUC. Governmental policy and public perception are two key concerns. We must engage the public in order to understand its concerns, like privacy and fairness, as well as to educate the public about the growing need.
If we want to continue to develop our nation's highway infrastructure, an alternative to the current inefficient and inadequate funding source must be developed now. While the technology is available, policies and other questions and issues still need to be resolved. The current fuel taxes can be supported and eventually replaced by implementing road usage fees.