As senior director of road usage charging (RUC) mobility operations for WSP USA — and as someone who has been working closely with state transportation officials over the past several years on their RUC plans — I am often asked about this concept of mileage-based user fees.
I always appreciate the opportunity to explain this developing process and, more importantly, clear up some common – but certainly understandable – concerns and misconceptions many people have about it.
Most people first want to know what road usage charging is; more importantly, what impact it might have on their wallet.
First, let’s look at the current system. Right now, every gallon of gasoline that you purchase for your vehicle includes a fuel tax. Some of it is a national tax, and some of the tax is levied by the states. Those taxes are intended to be used to fund road construction, maintenance and repair projects.
For a century or so, that tax system worked fairly well; after all, nearly all of the vehicles using the roadways were gas powered, so the motorists who were responsible for the wear-and-tear on those roadways were also contributing funds that would keep those roads in good working order.
A RUC program takes an entirely different approach to generating revenue for states, charging motorists a per-mile fee to use the roadways. In other words, how many miles did a vehicle travel, rather than how much fuel was used, to reach its destination?
To be clear, a RUC program replaces the existing fuel-tax model. It is not intended to be an additional tax for drivers. In some cases, the transition may result in a motorist paying less than they are paying under the current system.
So why should states make this transition in the first place? What’s wrong with the status quo?
Short answer? A lot.