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May 5th, 2011
It Really Doesn't Matter How Many Miles You Get to the Gallon

The Obama administration has floated a transportation authorization bill that would require the study and implementation of a plan to tax automobile drivers based on how many miles they drive.

The plan is a part of the administration's "Transportation Opportunities Act," an undated draft of which was obtained this week by Transportation Weekly.

This follows a March Congressional Budget Office report that supported the idea of taxing drivers based on miles driven.

Among other things, CBO suggested that a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax could be tracked by installing electronic equipment on each car to determine how many miles were driven; payment could take place electronically at filling stations.


The CBO report was requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who has proposed taxing cars by the mile as a way to increase federal highway revenues.

Obama's proposal seems to follow up on that idea in section 2218 of the draft bill. That section would create, within the Federal Highway Administration, a Surface Transportation Revenue Alternatives Office. It would be tasked with creating a "study framework that defines the functionality of a mileage-based user fee system and other systems."

The administration seems to be aware of the need to prepare the public for what would likely be a controversial change to the way highway funds are collected. For example, the office is called on to serve a public relations function, as the draft says it should "increase public awareness regarding the need for an alternative funding source for surface transportation programs and provide information on possible approaches."

The draft bill says the "study framework" for the project and a public awareness communications plan should be established within two years of creating the office, and that field tests should begin within four years.

The office would be required to consider four factors in field trials: the capability of states to enforce payment, the reliability of technology, administrative costs, and "user acceptance." The draft does not specify where field trials should begin.

The new office would be funded a total of $200 million through FY 2017 for the project. 


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