On Sunday, the Senate released the final text of the so-called “infrastructure” bill — all 2,702 pages of it. According to Breitbart, the ginormous bill was written in secret for months outside the normal legislative process. Buried in the measure is a pilot program for a “national motor vehicle per-mile user fee.”
On page 511 of the measure, which is embedded below, we read:
The objectives of the pilot program are—
(A) to test the design, acceptance, implementation, and financial sustainability of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee;
(B) to address the need for additional revenue for surface transportation infrastructure and a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee; and
(C) to provide recommendations relating to the adoption and implementation of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee.
According to the bill, the government will seek out “volunteers” in all 50 states to test various tools for collecting the mileage accrued by both commercial and private vehicle operators, which include:
(A) Third-party on-board diagnostic (OBD-II) devices.
(B) Smart phone applications.
(C) Telemetric data collected by automakers.
(D) Motor vehicle data obtained by car insurance companies.
(E) Data from the States that received a grant under section 6020 of the FAST Act (23 U.S.C. 503 note; Public Law 114–94) (as in effect on the day before the date of enactment of this Act).
(F) Motor vehicle data obtained from fueling stations.
(G) Any other method that the Secretary considers appropriate.
Each volunteer will be allowed to select the tool used to collect the data, according to the bill.
The measure also states:
For the purposes of the pilot program, the Secretary of the Treasury shall establish, on an annual basis, per-mile user fees for passenger motor vehicles, light trucks, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks, which amount may vary between vehicle types and weight classes to reflect estimated impacts on infrastructure, safety, congestion, the environment, or other related social impacts.
The measure also says the privacy of those who participate in the pilot will be protected.
“Not more than 60 days after the end of each calendar quarter in which a volunteer participant has participated in the pilot program, the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, shall estimate an amount of payment for each volunteer based on the vehicle miles submitted by the volunteer for the calendar quarter and issue such payment to such volunteer participant.”
Ten million dollars would be set aside for this program every year between 2022 and 2026, the measure adds.
The idea of a per-mile usage fee is not new, as a 2019 Reason article notes:
With the fuel efficiency of cars increasing, and the advent of electric vehicles, the fuel tax is becoming an increasingly unsustainable way to pay for highways.
Mileage-based user fees (MBUFs), a potential successor to gas taxes, are a per-mile fee levied on road users based on the distance driven. Under this system, a user driving on a certain highway or roadway would pay a per-mile rate of, for example, two cents per mile, multiplied by the number of miles driven.
The attractiveness of mileage-based user fees is clear when contrasted with the existing highway funding mechanism, the gasoline tax. The gas tax is an ad valorem tax levied directly on drivers at the point of sale. For each gallon of fuel purchased, the driver pays a federal, state and sometimes a county or city gas tax.
The federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993, is 18.4 cents per gallon, while state gas taxes vary from 14.65 cents per gallon in Alaska to 58.70 cents per gallon in Pennsylvania.
But it’s not without problems, as Reason is hasty to add:
Since an MBUF system would track a driver’s road usage, there is a concern that this information could be used by the government to monitor where and when drivers are traveling. The MBUF system does not need to know exactly where someone is driving, but a GPS device in the driver’s car could record the number of miles driven, and send that information to a third-party billing service. The state of Oregon’s permanent MBUF program uses a one-way system and third-party data collection to keep personal driver data confidential. The state does not have access to a driver’s location.
What isn’t known at this time is whether the federal gas tax will go away if a per-mile usage fee is applied. If a per-mile usage fee is applied, then the federal gas tax needs to be dropped, as Reason explained:
The user fee should replace the gas tax. If the gas tax is not outright repealed and replaced by a mileage-based user fee immediately, then road users that purchased gasoline and paid an MBUF could be refunded during the transition. Oregon already has a program in place that allows those who paid a MBUF and a gasoline tax to apply for a gas tax refund.
Here’s the full 2,702-page infrastructure bill: