TTI researchers are working to find solutions to Texas’ long-term fuel tax shortage. State and federal taxes on a gallon of gas have been 38 cents for more than 20 years, and because of inflation, 38 cents is worth a little over half of what it was worth two decades ago. According to the Texas 2030 Committee, a $135 billion gap exists between the needed and available revenue to build transportation infrastructures that maintain current levels of mobility.
Trey Baker, Associate Research Scientist at TTI’s Transportation Policy Research Center, assessed Road User Charges (RUCs), or Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Fees, as a solution to help collect revenue for building and maintaining Texas roadways. RUCs entail calculating a fee based on distance traveled, which some see as a more equitable and economically efficient method.
The study synthesized experiences from other states, including Nevada, Oregon, Iowa and Washington, and then applied the lessons learned in the context of Texas road user fees. After assessing the four states’ RUC pilot programs for acceptability, policy development, feasibility and implementation, Baker and his team concluded the following:
- Policy Objectives: The generation of sustainable funding in proportion to road use is generally the central policy objective for states looking at RUCs.
- Private-Sector Role: There will be a significantly enhanced role for the private sector relative to existing fee systems.
- Consumer Choice Provisions: Privacy concerns will persist, and providing drivers with choices is key to addressing them.
- Flexible and Adaptable Open Systems: Flexible and scalable systems require an open architecture that allows for technology evolution.
- Targeted Vehicle Charging: The auto industry will likely oppose fees targeted to specific vehicle types.
A Texas Institutional Assessment was also conducted in which Baker examined three public agencies, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, and assessed potential responsibilities for each in implementing RUCs in Texas.
The VMT Fee Assessment reveals conclusions that might be informative for Texas as agencies continue to discuss transportation funding solutions. Even though multiple factors are contributing to a lack of funding, there are also multiple solutions to generating necessary revenue beyond simply increasing the fuel tax.
“Our hope is that state and local officials can use our research findings to inform related policy discussions,” Baker says. “There are still a lot of questions to be answered, and we believe it will be informative to see how things unfold in Oregon as they implement an RUC as a replacement to the fuel tax later this year using 5,000 volunteer drivers.”