I was happy to find that a consistent theme at the ITS World Congress this year was on the importance of shifting to road user charging to fund infrastructure investments. The idea behind road user charging is that people pay fees based on how many miles a vehicle travels. Road user charging pilots are currently happening in many states, including California, Oregon, and Colorado; in addition to being established in places around the world, including Germany and New Zealand. This is a seemingly logical consideration for government for the following reasons:
- Many governments rely upon fuel tax revenues to fund infrastructure and the purchasing power of fuel tax revenues has declined as vehicles have become more fuel efficient and the tax hasn’t been increased enough to keep up with inflation or infrastructure spending needs.
- Driverless vehicles have the potential to be all electric (so they’ll generate no fuel tax revenues) and to enable increased vehicle miles traveled. By charging people based on their distance traveled, this tax may discourage unnecessary trips (which is a significant concern in a driverless society).
The potential for road user charging becomes even more significant when the government considers how it might support a wide range of governmental goals. Road user charging rates could be adjusted based on the following types of variations:
- Charging based on time in order to reduce peak travel congestion;
- Charging based on a cordoned area to reduce congestion in that specific region;
- Charging based on vehicle occupancy could incentivize sharing (and, conversely, disincentivize zero and single-occupancy vehicle trips);
- Charging based on a vehicle’s impact to the roadway (e.g., charging more for heavy vehicles or for sudden acceleration and braking)
- Charging based on the fuel efficiency of a vehicle to encourage reduced greenhouse gas emissions; and/or
- Charging based on road types to discourage non-local vehicles traveling on local streets;
Despite the fact that will be a challenge to implement, I believe that road user charging has the potential to be introduced at the same time as driverless vehicles. Why not leverage the excitement around the adoption of a new technology by introducing a new (and desperately needed) funding mechanism for infrastructure spending?