Trans4M Member groups collaborated with legislators and officials from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) today at a policy briefing to discuss the idea of a mileage-based fee to fund transportation in Michigan. The briefing served as the public release of a study on that topic completed by SMART at the University of Michigan and commissioned by the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC).
SMART researchers Liz Treutel (also a fellow here at Trans4M) and Alex Bazan shared a brief presentation about the report, and Chris Kolb from MEC facilitated a panel discussion with Conan Smith of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, John Austin of the Brookings Institution, and MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. The event sparked a conversation about a new, potentially more sustainable option to fund our transportation system. The concept is being looked at in Oregon, Texas, the University of Iowa and elsewhere.
The report, which you can download here, defines a mileage fee – also called vehicle miles traveled fees or road usage charges – as “distance-based fees levied on motorists for use of a defined network of roadways,” much like a user-fee for the road.
“Instead of continuing to raise fuel taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure, a mileage fee could more fairly allocate costs based on the number of miles driven, the time of day, the route taken, and the weight of the vehicle,” the report says.
Smith said further study of a mileage-based fee could be an “innovation opportunity” for Michigan. John Austin reiterated that “we have this huge challenge in financing our basic infrastructure,” and that a mileage fee policy presents a market-based solution: “This is the way to let people decide how they want to use [the transportation system].”
This kind of a policy could account for the many components that impact the cost of driving that are not currently addressed with the fuel excise tax. If designed well, the policy could arm drivers with more information about the impacts of their travel decisions and encourage individuals to make lower-cost options such as biking, walking, taking public transit, or perhaps living closer to where they work.
Investment in other modes of transportation will be a key aspect in implementing a mileage fee policy to give drivers other options to reduce the impact on their wallet. Austin touched on the importance of public transit to Michigan’s economy. “Young people too often are going to other communities where there are diverse transportation options,” he said.”We need to encourage incentives that increase options or we’re going to keep losing our talent.”
The policy briefing and the report started an important conversation about potential options for improving Michigan’s comprehensive transportation system and helping users better understand the cost of driving on the system. A mileage fee is a long-term potential option that wouldn’t have any impact on the recent road funding proposal, which will likely be discussed in the Senate next week. But there’s no better time than now to start the discussion.
Written by Laurel Burchfield, Trans4M Coordinator