10 Reasons to Support Mileage-based User Fees

The debate over gas taxes or mileage-based user fees to fund road construction and maintenance is heating up. Proponents of gas tax increases argue now is the time to proceed because lower gasoline prices would lessen the blow on consumers and blunt political opposition. In California, a commission to study road usage charges and establish a pilot program for mileage charges has begun meeting. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has revealed her quest for non-specific fees to pay for road maintenance.

Fuel taxes have been used as the prime method to fund roads since Oregon implemented a gas tax in 1919. Because fuel taxes are charged per gallon, the tax has dropped proportionately with the advent of electric, hybrid, and fuel-efficient vehicles.

Taxpayer advocates have complained that money for the roads has been used for other purposes, especially during the recession. Meanwhile, some electric car users say the gas tax should be increased as if there is no cost to the roads from electric vehicles even though electric car manufacturers and purchasers have received subsidies from the state.

Perhaps surprising to some, the idea of a mileage user fee is supported by the small government, libertarian Reason Foundation and one its founders, transportation expert Robert Poole.

Along with Adrian Moore, Poole produced a report last year supporting mileage based user fees for highways. While the study expressly deals with federal highways, the discussion over mileage base fees could also apply to state roads.

Poole and Moore list ten reasons why supporting a mileage user fee is the best way to fund transportation. As Poole summarized those reasons:

  • Reason 1: Per-mile tolling is a direct, rather than indirect, user fee. Motorists would pay for the amount of service they received; they would pay providers directly for providing that service; and they would know exactly how much they were paying and what they were getting for it.
  • Reason 2: Per-mile tolling is a sustainable long-term funding source for long-term infrastructure, which does not depend on the energy source used to propel the vehicles. Its transparency should help rebuild trust in the highway funding system.
  • Reason 3: Per-mile tolls can be tailored to the cost of each road and bridge, rather than being averaged across all types of roads, from neighborhood streets to massive Interstates; this ensures adequate funding for major highway projects like Interstate reconstruction and modernization.
  • Reason 4: Per-mile tolling reflects greater fairness, since those who drive mostly on Interstates will pay higher rates than those who drive mostly on local streets.
  • Reason 5: If per-mile tolling is implemented as a true user fee, it will be self-limiting, dedicated solely to the purpose for which it was implemented (and enforceable via bond covenants with those who buy toll revenue bonds).
  • Reason 6: Per-mile tolling will guarantee proper ongoing maintenance of the tolled corridors, since bond-buyers and other investors legally require this as a condition of providing the funds.
  • Reason 7: Per-mile tolling also provides a ready source of funding for future improvements to the tolled corridor.
  • Reason 8: Toll financing means needed projects, such as reconstruction and widening, can be done when they are needed, and paid for over several decades as highway users enjoy the benefits of the improved facilities.
  • Reason 9: A per-mile tolling system using all-electronic tolling can easily implement variable pricing on urban expressways to reduce and manage traffic congestion.
  • Reason 10: Per-mile tolling would be the first big step toward replacing fuel taxes with mileage-based user fees—something that most of the transportation research and policy community has concluded should eventually happen.

Concluded Poole: As this policy brief makes clear, the fuel tax was never an “ideal user fee”. It should be replaced with a direct charge for highway services that is sustainable, fair, efficient and—for major highways and bridges—tailored to the capital and operating cost of individual facilities. This system should not create privacy concerns by enabling governments to track where and when people travel, and should give motorists choices in how to pay for their miles traveled.

Others have argued that money for the roads should come from state surpluses or from re-directing revenues dedicated to the high-speed rail project.

The debate over road maintenance costs has begun in earnest.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily


  1. They are good points for such a change and I would support such a change if (and it is a big if) state gasoline taxes were eliminated as part of the change. The truth is, however, I simply do not trust the politicians. We would end up with both a mileage usage tax and the gas tax.

    • Freedom Fighter says

      and – they would push the taxes, both on the gas AND The driving, up every year. This is an Agenda 21 tactic to get us to stop driving.

  2. Freedom Fighter says

    This is BALONEY!!!!! The funds keep getting allocated BY THE VOTERS, and just like for education, the funds get sidetracked. MAYBE if we weren’t supporting SO many illegals with education, medical care, AND driving on our highways – we’d HAVE the money where it belongs!

  3. Oh where to begin. Lets start with #4, this will directly and probably adversely effect the long haul truckers, and by trickle down, every consumer with even high prices and of course higher sales taxes. A win for the states with sales taxes. #9 a method of reducing traffic congestion. Exactly how many people live within a block or two of a transit hub, how many have their work place within a short walking distance from a bus or light rail? How many can get to work without transfers and the long wait in between. Exactly who has an extra 3+ hours a day to wait for a bus or train? I agree with Freedom Fighter, this is just part of the idiotic Agenda 21.

  4. Gas takes are not the answer. Politian accountability is!

  5. Poole (rhymes with fool) makes some very valid points – but only if he backs his argument with his bankroll, and his life – for government can NEVER be trusted to keep its word.
    They will impose a mileage fee, and keep the per-gallon tax on fuel – plus the sales tax.

  6. One major result of this kind of tax would be drivers will travel the least expensive route on trips which means they will avoid expensive (highway) and take less expensive streets. This will only create gridlock on surface streets and neighborhoods. For proof of this result, look at what has happened with that “app” (on your phone) that tells you the quickest “route” to your destination, which sometimes is through residential neighborhoods, and the backlash that has been the result.

  7. Like most taxes, the California Pork-a-ticians will find a way to squander any money that they can get their greasy paws on.
    Part of the existing fuel taxes are being used for bicycle infrastructure. I suspect a portion of it is going into the general fund.
    How much of the existing gas tax does ‘Moon Beam’ plan on using to finance his legacy choo choo.
    I REFUSE to vote for ANY taxes. California Pork-a-ticians cannot be trusted to frugally manage the taxpayers best interest.

  8. NO WAY !!!!!! There is a gas tax already, that was more than enough for highways… The thieves in Sacramento took the tax and put it in the general fund and spent it elsewhere… And, this isn’t the only occurance… This will happen over and over again, you can bet that these funds will be raided before there is one shovel of blacktop hits the road…… Screw Sacramento we are tired of the con games….

  9. IF AND ONLY IF the state of California, will repeal all gasoline taxes, and special highway funds taxes, and impose embezzlement laws against anyone attempting to use millage taxes , for anything other then highway or automotive/truck bridge construction, this would include prohibiting use for bicycle or hiking trails.

  10. The comments pretty much are right one. The real answer for pretty much every money problem we have is to cut the current politician ranks by 90 perecent. There have been taxes upon taxes and all those taxes, including the ones by the federal government have mostly been spent everywhere except where they should have gone. ALL PEOPLE use the roads!!! Whether or not you drive one mile. How do you think food and everything you use gets to you or to a store? That includes roads being used to maintain, check, and repair your electricity, water, gas and communication lines. The political corruption is off the charts. We need to go to strict term limits. A politician can serve ONE term, AND THEN GO HOME!!! We would then see who really wants to S E R V E !!!.

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