Southern Californian drivers might face another uphill battle that is beyond the one known as traffic: they could face taxes for the amount of miles they drive.
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)—which represents Los Angeles County amongst five others throughout the Southland—have passed a resolution it hopes to present to Congress: a Mileage-Based User Fee to be implemented by 2025.
Most drivers notice one thing and one thing only: the price at the gas pump.
The federal gas tax—18.5 cents for every gallon—hasn’t altered in decades. Using U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates, SCAG notes that fuel efficiency for all light-duty vehicles (cars and light trucks) will steadily increase, from an average weighted MPG of just over 20 in 2010 to over 36 in 2040. The fuel efficiency of freight trucks also is expected to improve, although at a slower rate, from an average weighted MPG of over 6 in 2010 to over 8 in 2040. Come 2035, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will have increased by 16%, according to SCAG.
“There is no shift in public policy or public attitudes that encourage people to reduce their long-term travel habits or shift to more efficient vehicles more quickly.”
What does this mean? A severely lowered gas tax revenue that leaves funds for fixing roads and bridges. SCAG claims the federal highway fund balance—$22B just two-and-a-half years ago—now sits at $8B and will be depleted come summer time. Considering California is estimated to need some $6B to repair its bridges alone, the need for money is dire.
This amounts to what SCAG described as a lack of a shift in “public policy or public attitudes that encourage people to reduce their long-term travel habits or shift to more efficient vehicles more quickly. Given the growing concern about climate protection and fuel price volatility, however, such changes are likely, which would lead to a more rapid deterioration in the long-term viability of the current fuel tax.”
VMT charges are not necessarily new: Oregon and Illinois implemented pilot experiments with several thousand drivers, charging a VMT while reimbursing their gas tax. Oregon’s was so successful that a drop of 10% occurred during peak traffic times.
As to how the miles will be measured (Big Brother device, motorists?) or reported (surely everyone will be honest, right?) are still to be figured out, the move represents a massive shift in approaching vehicles: this isn’t about lowering emissions but being able to maintain roadways.
SCAG is hoping to ask Congress to replace the current gas tax with the VMT tax by 2025.