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FAQs

General Questions

A road usage charge (RUC) is a transportation funding model wherein all drivers are assessed a fee based on the number of miles they drive, rather than on how much gas they consume.
RUC West is the foremost authority on road usage charging in the United States, bringing together leaders from 14 state transportation organizations to share resources and explore innovative funding solutions for preserving the future of our transportation network.
States have researched and implemented a number of mileage recording and payment options to provide users with choices in each system. The options available vary from state to state, and often include a mix of high and low tech methods for mileage recording. Some of these options include:

  • Time permits: Similar to a vehicle registration fee, the participant purchases unlimited road use for a specific period of time.
  • Mileage permits: The participant pre-pays to drive a certain number of miles.
  • Odometer charge: The participant pays a fee per mile based on periodic odometer readings.
  • Automated mileage reporting without general location data: Vehicles have equipment that measures and reports mileage automatically to an account manager—either provided by a state agency or a private company. The account manager periodically (monthly or quarterly) sends the motorist an invoice for their individual road use.
  • Automated mileage reporting with general location data: In-vehicle equipment reports mileage traveled to a third party account manager which invoices the participant. The equipment also provides general location data so the participant is not charged for travel out-of-state or on private roads. These options include in-vehicle telematics, smartphone apps, and plug-in devices for the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) data port.

 

Policy

The revenues currently available for highways and local roads may not be able to preserve and maintain existing road infrastructure, reduce congestion, and improve service. The gas tax cannot meet current and long-term transportation funding needs because it continues to generate less revenue as cars become more fuel-efficient. By 2030, as much as half of the revenue that could be collected from the gas tax will be lost to fuel efficiency. States need to explore more sustainable transportation funding models, like RUC, in order to generate adequate revenue to support their road maintenance and improvement needs.
In December, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. It is the first long-term authorization since 2005’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which expired in 2009.In the FAST Act, Congress recognized the need to demonstrate user-based alternative revenue mechanisms, utilizing a user fee model (road usage charge) to maintain the long-term solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The enactment of the FAST Act created a five-year, $95 million grant program, which is eligible to a state or group of states to test the design, acceptance, and implementation of a future road charge alternative revenue mechanism.

 

Equity

If a road charge program were implemented, the impact on individual households would depend on particular circumstances. In general, hybrids and electric cars are more expensive and likely to be purchased by those in higher income brackets. Drivers of such vehicles pay little or no gas tax even though they still contribute wear and tear to the roads, while those who drive older and less fuel efficient vehicles pay more because they purchase more fuel.
All vehicles, regardless of fuel source, cause wear and tear to our roads and contribute to roadway congestion. A road usage charge would place a fee on the number of vehicle miles traveled rather than fuel consumed, allowing electric, hybrids, and other fuel-efficient vehicles to pay their fair share to maintain the roads. Although the payment method is different, the road charge is based on the same idea as a gas tax: the amount drivers pay to maintain roads should correspond to the number of miles they drive.
In general, rural households currently pay more gas tax per mile driven because they tend to own vehicles with lower fuel efficiency than urban and suburban households. Under a road usage charge system, they would potentially pay the same amount per mile driven as owners of higher MPG vehicles so the cost to pay for roads could be spread among all drivers more equitably. In every state, the impact on individual households would depend on their particular circumstances.

 

Alternative Funding Options

Yes, there are alternative options to increase funds for road maintenance including increasing vehicle licensing and registration fees, levying new or additional fees on sales of electric vehicles, applying revenues from general sales taxes to transportation, creating transportation reinvestment zones, increasing public / private partnerships, indexing gas taxes to a variety of economic indicators, and tolling more state highways. Many states are currently researching and exploring all of these alternatives. A road usage charge, however, may be a sustainable option for addressing the systemic problems of the current gas tax funding model.
Raising the gas tax offers only a short-term solution to funding roadway maintenance and repair, as revenues will continue to decline on a per-mile basis as vehicles continue to become more and more fuel-efficient. Vehicles are now getting more miles per gallon or are using alternate fuels and electricity where no gas tax is charged.
The impact on roads created by light duty cars and trucks, from small compacts to large pickups, is essentially uniform for all vehicles. A 2007 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) report found that vehicles weighing between 2,000 and 7,000 lbs. produce approximately the same wear and tear on our roads. Whether you drive a 2,500 lb. Toyota Prius or a 6,500 lb. Hummer, there is no significant difference in the impact these vehicles have on a typical highway.

Many states implement weight-mile taxes for large, commercial freight trucks based on the number of axles, vehicle weight, and miles traveled. The federal government has estimated that a 40-ton, 18-wheel truck with a max payload causes the same damage as 9,600 midsize cars. This helps ensure that these heavier vehicles pay their fair share for the additional wear and tear they inflict on our roadways.