MBUF’s Effect on All Users: 5 Key Findings from Our Work

Our 2020-2021 work takes on some of the biggest concerns related to an MBUF approach: privacy, rural drivers, and the trucking industry

The aerial scenic view of the elevated highway on the high bridge over the Lehigh River at the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Lehigh Valley, Poconos region, Pennsylvania, USA.

A transportation funding solution must address all road users and understand the unique complexities of each. That’s why our 2020-2021 work explored the impact of a mileage-based user fee (MBUF) approach on both commercial and passenger vehicles, and took on the biggest concerns related to a shift to MBUF: privacy, rural drivers, and the trucking industry.

Takeaways from this work are included in our recently-released report, titled Exploration of Mileage-Based User Fee Approaches for All Users. The report provides insights from our 2020-2021 MBUF Work, which included a combination of demonstration pilots and analyses:

  • The nation’s first national truck pilot, including 221 vehicles traveling 11 million miles across 48 states and Washington, D.C.
  • A passenger vehicle pilot with nearly 400 participants conducted in partnership with Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania
  • Engagement with our Motor Carrier Working Group, which includes experts from across the trucking industry
  • A geographic equity analysis exploring impacts of MBUF on different households in each partner state
  • Public opinion surveys, pilot participant surveys, focus groups, and examination of tolling and congestion mitigation synergies

The work yielded five key findings:

  1. Understanding the Complexity of the User Matters.
  2. Real-World Pilots Reduce Privacy Concerns.
  3. Leveraging Technology Creates Solutions.
  4. A Tiered Rate Based on Fuel Economy Doesn’t Work.
  5. Customized Outreach Needed to Move MBUF Forward.

These findings are discussed in more detail below.

1. Understanding the Complexity of the User Matters.

Our work has shown that MBUF impacts road users differently. For example, depending on how the rate is set, rural drivers may fare better with MBUF than they do with the fuel tax.

A long-term road funding solution must address all users and understand the unique complexities of each. This means understanding the need to keep rates simple to account for the trucking industry’s complexities, and understanding MBUF’s effect on different geographies. For example, when compared to the fuel tax, an MBUF approach (using a revenue neutral per-mile rate) may save rural drivers money since they tend to drive less fuel-efficient vehicles.

2. Real-World Pilots Reduce Privacy Concerns.

MBUF pilots and programs help reduce privacy concerns by providing drivers a real-world experience with MBUF technology, offering mileage reporting choices including a non-GPS option, and establishing sufficient data privacy and security protection as part of MBUF system requirements. Because of such practices, the percentage of passenger vehicle participants who were concerned about privacy dropped from 52% to 7% in the passenger pilot.

3. Leveraging Technology Creates Solutions.

In the Coalition’s public opinion surveys, 49% to 61% of the general public said the fuel tax is an out-of-date way to assess road usage and agreed that advances in technology should be leveraged for new funding approaches. The Coalition’s work has found that technology does create solutions for tolling, congestion mitigation, and MBUF collection, and also eases the burden of mileage reporting on users. In surveys, commercial and passenger vehicle pilot participants said technology provides a secure, hassle-free way to report distance.

4. A Tiered Rate Based on Fuel Economy Doesn’t Work.

Tiered rates based on fuel economy can result in drastically different charges for vehicles with similar fuel economies, are difficult to explain, and create winners and losers. A possible issue with any tiered rate structure based on fuel economy is that charging lower per-mile rates on more fuel-efficient vehicles could cause lower income households and rural drivers to pay more in MBUF than they do in fuel tax since they tend to drive less fuel-efficient vehicles. Similarly, small, independently-owned truck fleets could be negatively impacted if they can’t purchase newer, more fuel-efficient trucks.

Outreach, such as our site’s MBUF calculator, is important to move MBUF forward.

5. Customized Outreach Needed to Move MBUF Forward.

An MBUF approach to transportation funding is still a little-known concept for most of the general public. Strategic engagement provides an opportunity to address misconceptions and concerns about MBUF, build connections with policymakers and other stakeholders, and participate in a dialogue with particular user groups. Our work has shown that as people learn more about MBUF, their support for the concept increases. Effective outreach methods used in the Coalition’s work include the Coalition’s MBUF website and MBUF calculator, presentations, monthly participant statements, and newsletters.

Learn More About Our 2020-2021 MBUF Work.

For more information about the Coalition’s 2020-2021 MBUF Work, check out the following resources:

Our latest insights build on earlier work the Coalition has conducted since 2018 to better understand how MBUF impacts drivers in Eastern U.S. states. The exploration has included passenger vehicle pilots in 2018 and 2019, as well as a multi-state truck pilot in the concluded in 2019.

Working with state partners, the Coalition will continue to operate pilot programs that explore the viability of MBUF and answer questions about how such a system could be implemented on a national scale.

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