By Wendy Greenberg
A fuel tax paid at the gas pump has subsidized the national transportation system. But what happens as less fuel is being sold, and subsequently, there is less money to fund road repairs and maintain the transportation infrastructure?
Vehicles are going farther on less fuel, points out The Eastern Transportation Coalition (TETC), a partnership of 17 states and Washington, D.C., including New Jersey. The coalition is asking for input on an alternative approach called a Mileage-Based User Fee, which is based on drivers paying for the mileage they drive instead of the fuel they buy. Princeton area residents can join a pilot program and offer input. There is no fee to participate, and there are privacy protection measures to safeguard location data.
Jim Purcell, assistant municipal engineer, says he has been a mileage-based user fee advocate for 15 years. “Cars are more efficient,” he said. He plans on signing up for the pilot program. “I don’t see a downside” to enrolling in the pilot plan, he said. In fact, he added, he proposed such a mileage-based fee to the state legislature some years ago.
Drivers can enroll by going to the website NewJerseyMBUFpilot.com and enrolling through a private company, Azuga Insight, which will ask your vehicle identification number and odometer reading.
Participants can choose to record mileage with a plug-in device with GPS, a plug-in device without GPS, a manual odometer entry, or in-vehicle telematics. The plug-in device arrives in the mail and is plugged into the vehicle to record mileage. The program asks for the device to be mailed back after a few months. Those who select a GPS device may be eligible for other dashboard features such as trip logs, vehicle health information, a carbon footprint calculator, safe zone notifications, and more.
Drivers will receive monthly statements to show how many miles they have driven, and will be shown the cost differential between a traditional fuel tax and a mileage-based user fee.
A TETC press release from earlier this year noted that New Jersey was part of a passenger vehicle pilot with nearly 400 participants from New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. A related survey noted that while maintaining the existing transportation infrastructure was a top priority of a majority of respondents, the general public doesn’t realize the transportation system faces a funding challenge.
A preliminary report stated that since the introduction of the fuel tax, vehicle fuel efficiency has changed dramatically, with vehicles going farther on less fuel. More electric vehicles are on the road, and the report noted that while this is economical for consumers, and better for the environment, “it has presented a challenge for the transportation system that depends on these funds.”
One side issue is that as refineries produce less gasoline, there is a reduction in manufacturing the asphalt material for the roads. New materials and recycling of road asphalt is being looked at, said Purcell.
The Princeton municipal newsletter and website princetonnj.gov include information on the pilot program. More information can be obtained from NewJersey@MBUFpilot.org.
Enrollment in the pilot program is open through the end of July. The pilot is funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation grant program.