Toll Officials Discuss New Ways to Collect Fees

By Desiree Taylor

Representatives of owners and operators of toll facilities from across the country gathered at a symposium in Jersey City to figure out how best to pay for road and transportation repairs currently funded through federal and state gas taxes. One idea is to eliminate these taxes and replace them with a mileage based user fee, so essentially motorists pay based on how much they drive their cars. This idea is being explored by a trade group hosting the symposium, the IBTTA or International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association.

Executive Director Patrick Jones says alternative revenue sources are needed because “…the federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993 and it’s lost one-third of its purchasing power due to inflation.” And since public policies are pushing for more fuel-efficient vehicles, Edward Regan III of Global Transportation Development adds, “… why base our tax on something we don’t want people to use [gas]?”

But implementing a mileage based user fee is ambitious because it would in some cases require new technology to track mileage. There are also existing devices like GPS systems that could be used, but that could be controversial because opponents fear it could be used to pinpoint a driver’s location. But Jones of the IBTTA says, “We already know where people are with their cell phones so this is not a big leap …” Supporters of mileage based user fees say this method could also achieve other objectives such as congestion management through shifting trips from peak to off-peak.

Two pilot programs are kicking off in Oregon and Minnesota, but industry officials say it will be at least 10 years before there is widespread implementation of mileage based user fees.