Volunteers in an ongoing MnDOT pilot study of mileage-based user fees get real-time
information about the cost of their driving in an on-board display.
As part of a larger project examining the feasibility of a mileage-based user fee (MBUF) system in Minnesota—which would charge drivers based on the number of miles they drive rather than the gallons of fuel they use—the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) commissioned a policy task force to provide MBUF recommendations.
In a session focusing on future transportation funding at the CTS research conference, Lee Munnich of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs shared highlights from the task force process and final report. The Humphrey School helped facilitate the process and provided technical advice to the task force.
Munnich explained that the task force began by identifying potential system benefits—such as improved fairness, flexibility, and sustainability—as well as possible challenges, including privacy concerns, high administrative and operating costs, and jurisdictional issues. Task force members also had lengthy discussions about the objectives of an MBUF system, including the idea of equity, he said.
“It’s not just about having enough money,” Munnich said. “When everyone was driving the same vehicles, the gas tax was a very fair way of paying for the road. Now that we have different types of vehicles, like hybrids and electric, the gas tax isn’t as reliable for determining user fees.”
General task force recommendations include ensuring equity in any future transportation funding method by including all drivers, regardless of vehicle or fuel type. The report also suggests that individual states or groups of states may need to take the lead on an MBUF system, rather than waiting for something to be implemented on a national level.
The conference session also featured a presentation by Dan Murray of the American Transportation Research Institute. Murray highlighted some of the major challenges of an MBUF system, including the logistics and costs associated with implementation, fee collection, and enforcement.
“We will put billions into implementation, design, and installation before one dollar gets to the roads,” Murray said.
Following the presentations, a panel of policy task force members offered thoughts on MBUF in Minnesota. The panel discussed the need to identify the goals of a possible MBUF system and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Specific areas of concern included collection costs, data privacy, and public acceptance.
Former Congressman James L. Oberstar convened this forum May 15 to discuss the future of transportation funding. Several state and national leaders reviewed the basic principles for funding transportation, possible revenue sources and collection methods, and their visions for the future. The Humphrey School and CTS were co-hosts.