By Niraj Chokshi and Fawn Johnson
Many policy analysts agree that a "vehicle-miles traveled" fee, a literal tax for actual road use, is an effective replacement for the current gas tax to pay for our roads and bridges. A penny-per-mile tax would raise enough to match the existing 18.4 cent-per-gallon fuel tax, while two cents-per-mile would raise enough to maintain infrastructure investment in the long run, according to the oft-cited report from a Miller Center conference co-chaired by former Transportation Secretaries Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner. As the report makes brutally clear, a lot still stands in the way.
The most obvious hurdle to overcome is privacy: How can the government assure citizens that it won't abuse the power to track individuals? How will that data be protected? Should vehicles be taxed differently based on their footprint or when they are used (i.e., peak v. non-peak hours)? How will the fees collected be divvied up fairly? And, critically, how can such a major change be packed into a pill the American public can swallow?
This is the time of year when the price of gas rises, and with it the political rhetoric. House Speaker John Boehner is determined to make gas prices a core political critique aimed at President Obama and Democrats leading up to the election. In Congress, it is also a time when policymakers are facing difficult questions about how to thread a very thin needle of a highway bill. If they don't act in the next few months, they will be forced to extend the current surface transportation program for another year at a political cost to both parties and the great disappointment of the transportation community.
Perhaps we have a touch of Pollyanna in us, but we think now would be a good time to talk about whether the VMT ever will be a viable option for funding infrastructure. We may live in partisan times. But we are not backward technologically. Will the driving tax ever happen? If so, how do we get there? Is the technology ready? Is the public ready? Are lawmakers ready? Give us your scenarios.