Sidebar: Eno Report Offers Advice on National VMT-Fee Pilot 

A NEW REPORT by the Eno Center for Transportation offers recommendations for the federal government to consider for a national Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee pilot.

The Eno Center for Transportation worked with the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC), a partnership of 33 national associations and construction unions, and assembled an advisory panel, reviewed existing data and literature, evaluated best practices, and convened expert workshops.

The 96-page report, Driving Change: Advice for the National VMT-Fee Pilot, was issued in July but the idea of a new source of federal transportation funding has been recognized for more than a decade. The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission concluded in 2009 that the U.S. would need a new approach to transportation infrastructure funding as alternative fuels and more efficient vehicles threatened the long-term stability of a financial system based on revenues from federal excise tax on fuel purchases.

The boom in electric vehicle usage and sales have magnified the threats to transportation funding while federal policymakers have not increased highway user tax rates to keep pace with inflation. “A system where drivers are charged for each mile driven has long been acknowledged as a viable and sustainable long-term option for national transportation funding,” according to the Eno report. The fee, known as VMT, MBUF or RUC, is based on distance traveled and potentially could vary by geography, vehicle weight, time of day and other variables.

The largest unknown for a national VMT fee is implementation on all private passenger vehicles. “The national pilot should employ phasing to use the funds and time available more effectively. Certain implementations can be tested in different regions, and they do not all have to take place at the same time or for the same amount of time.” It should test the minimum data required to administer a national VMT fee, scalability, and administrative models to mitigate concerns over privacy.

One potential model could use three different passenger vehicle groups to allow for testing different rate structures and admin models, including how it might look for a state to administer both a state and federal VMT fee and remit the fee to the federal VMT fee and remit the fee to the federal government and vice-versa.”

The federal program also should:
  • Commit to constructing the simplest implementation possible. This will help determine which data elements are needed to administer a full national VMT-fee program. In doing so, they should test scalability and, where possible, measure the impact on administrative practices and cost.
  • Distinguish between certain elements of a national program versus what states are exploring today.
  • Consider cross-border travel with Canada and Mexico as well as how to standardize elements such as vehicle classifications, weight definitions, and models for data formatting, sharing, and protection.
The Eno report also recommends assembling a Federal System Funding Alternative Advisory Board as soon as possible. As outlined in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the board would provide an annual report to Congress and create recommendations for a potential permanent VMT fee. The 2021 legislation also requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish a national pilot to “test the design, acceptance, implementation, and financial sustainability” of a VMT-fee system.

Since the IIJA only authorized $50 million over five years for the program, Eno worked with expert stakeholders to develop a set of goals on which the program should focus and recommendations as to how to meet those goals, according to Robert Puentes, Eno’s president and CEO.