There are a number of advantages to a VMT system over the current way trucks pay federal taxes. First, taxes would be more carefully related to costs imposed. Trucks that do more damage to roadways, add to congestion and pollute more would pay more. This in turn would increase efficiency by reducing payment damage, encouraging trucks to drive with fuller loads, and to pollute less. In addition, a truck VMT system would make it easier to implement truck-only toll lanes/roads as the payment system would be already in existence. And anonymized data on truck travel would help to identify when and where truck bottlenecks exist and to help measure their severity.
The trucking industry, however, has testified before this Committee that it opposes a truck-only VMT system. It provides several reasons for its position which are examined here.
One objection is that a VMT would be used to increase the taxes paid by trucking. However, the key thing to understand about a VMT system is that it can be used to generate less, the same, or more revenue; just as existing tax mechanisms can by lowering, raising or keep the tax rates the same. How taxes and fees are collected is a completely separate matter from the amount that are collected.
A second concern is that a VMT system (like tolling) could cause diversion, leading trucks to travel on roads other than the most efficient for them. In fact, a truck VMT system would have the exact opposite effect. By pricing the segments of roads based on the total cost a truck imposes on it, trucks would have a stronger incentive to make the most societally efficient route choices. Moreover, a VMT system can be easily structured so as to not double-charge trucks that are driving on tolled roads or bridges. The on-board computer would be able to download a pricing data base that would tell it when the truck is driving on a toll road and the truck would be charged only the toll, and not the VMT fee on top.
A third concern is that a VMT system would lead to trucks being subject to double taxation. However, any system should be designed (as the
A fourth concern is that there is no need to move to a VMT system until there is significant penetration of alternative fuel (e.g., electric vehicles). But this assumes that the principal purpose of a VMT system is simply to raise revenues. In fact, the purpose of a VMT system, whether it is for passenger vehicles of truck is not just to raise money but to charge fees that match that actual costs imposed on the system. Moreover, moving first to a truck VMT system it will be easier to later transition to a passenger VMT system, which will take more time. And during this time the growth of electric vehicles will surely increase.
A fifth concern is around privacy. To be sure, there is a very real concern among policy makers and the general public that a road pricing system that charges based on when and where individuals travel inherently threatens privacy. But in fact, the privacy concerns are largely based on a misperception of how these systems actually work. Any VMT design centers on the use of an on-board unit (one in each vehicle) that would contain a GPS receiver that receives satellite signals enabling it to calculate vehicle location in real time and a computer that calculates the associated VMT charge. The key point is that the satellite signal is only a one-way signal "telling" the car receiver where it is, and therefore outside the vehicle there is no tracking of where individuals travel. In essence, this receiving function of a VMT system would function like the GPS devices that millions of Americans have already installed in their cars without worry of privacy loss.
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