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ROAD USER CHARGING Opinion piece


“Any assumptions about RUC based solely on the fact that a RUC system is similar to a tolling system should be challenged”


While some value added services have been used with toll- ing technologies, these services have been localized, typically for payment or off-street parking and some roadside serv- ices such as fast food. In the USA, where tolling systems are not interoperable and are proprietary or “closed” systems, few value added services are offered. Road usage charging, on the other hand, due to its potential scale and application to all RUC-subject vehicles, is more suited to building on existing value added services that include pay-as-you-drive insurance, vehicle concierge services, vehicle maintenance information, virtual emissions inspections, parking, and even payment of tolls.


IMPACT OF DIFFERENCES The differences between RUC and tolling impact how a RUC program should be developed and implemented. Three strongly impacted areas are: • messaging to the public, • engagement with legislative bodies, and • interaction with technology and business service providers.


First, messaging to the public must occur on a much larger scale than typically occurs with tolls. Most toll system out- reach and interaction occurs in the metropolitan area where the tolls are located. RUC outreach must be performed across an entire region, state or country, as it will affect every road user in the jurisdiction and even beyond, if RUC will be imposed on out-of-state drivers as well. When engaging the public, there are several messages that


should be delivered to explain RUC. First, the benefits of implementing RUC (sustainable revenues, equity across all socio-economic classes, more fair allocation of costs, etc.), and whether it will be used to replace or supplement the gas tax, should be explained in a public forum, providing the pub- lic with ample opportunity to gain a better understanding of RUC and provide feedback. The public should be informed that RUC will have no impact on existing tolls. Next, the pub- lic should be told which vehicles the RUC will apply to – all, or just a subset. Finally, the public should be told the general range of the price of the RUC, even if the precise per mile rate isn’t knows. It should be emphasized that the RUC rate will be US$0.01-0.02 per mile, or US$150–250 per year for most vehicles, depending on how far you drive. Introducing RUC requires a unique type of engagement


with the legislature that differs from engagement for tolling policies. Legislators from the entire state should be engaged, as RUC will impact everyone. All legislators should be made to understand that the basis for a RUC policy is creating sus-


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tainable revenues for statewide mobility. In contrast, the basis for tolling is being able to build a dedicated facility in a spe- cific location/local jurisdiction. Legislators should understand some of the basic policy issues related to RUC, especially: • Increasing fuel efficiency combined with the emergence of alternative fuel vehicles make the gas tax unsustainable as a user fee;


• RUC’s per-mile charge is the basis of road usage; gas tax was always just a proxy for road usage;


• RUC does not harm rural drivers disproportionately com- pared with urban drivers, because rural drivers are already paying disproportionately more through the gas tax. RUC preserves the equity of the current financing system. This is especially important, as all legislators, including those from rural districts, should be engaged in the support of RUC; and


• RUC is more cost-effective than tolling and has more bonding capacity than tolling when applied statewide. In fact, it could help raise a state’s bond rating compared to its ratings with the gas tax – ratings agencies have already identified decreasing gas tax revenues as a major risk that could impact gas tax bonding capacity.


Finally, technology and business service providers (account managers) for RUC should be treated differently from those that provide tolling services. The larger scale and scope of the RUC is conducive to private account management (instead of account management directly by state agencies). Moreo- ver, RUC bundles neatly with existing technology and value- added services such as pay-as-you-drive insurance and in-vehicle telematics systems (such as GM’s OnStar or Toy- ota’s Entune), both of which make the system cost-effective and convenient for the user. The larger scale also makes it more important for the RUC


system to be an open system (in which technology and serv- ice providers can enter the system with low barriers, and multiple providers can be active in one jurisdiction) instead of a closed system (in which one company or toll agency con- trols technology and others cannot enter). Tolling systems have traditionally been closed and only recently have begun to open to multiple providers supplying hardware that inter- acts. Lastly, companies should be enabled and encouraged to use the flexible RUC technology platform to provide addi- tional value added services.


CONCLUSION Understanding the substantial differences between road usage charging and tolling is the key to creating the politi-


thinkinghighways.com Vol 8 No 3 North America


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