Road Use Pricing Trials Find Promising Results

August 11, 2011

Written by Rebecca Heywood, Kittelson & Associates, Inc. Intern

Policy makers across the globe have been debating for years about how to continue funding a transportation system reliant on gas taxes as new technologies are developed that reduce an automobiles reliance on the limited resource. While the debate seems to be ongoing, few cities have taken action to switch from gas taxes to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) pricing. A recent New York Times article, however, brings to light a recent trial of the technology in Eindhoven, the Netherlands that had promising results.

Under the Dutch system, developed in partnership with NXP Semiconductors and IBM, each car contained a meter that calculated the fees and displayed them to the user, similar to a meter in a taxi cab. The Dutch pricing scheme factored in the societal costs of driving which included pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and wear and tear on the road. It also accounted for the car’s fuel efficiency, the time of day and the route. With the meters connected wirelessly to the Internet and GPS, charges were tabulated and a bill was sent to the vehicle’s owner at the end of each month, similar to a cell phone bill.

Even though participants in the trial did not have to pay the charges accumulated, the trial resulted in 70% of drivers changing their travel behavior to avoid rush-hour traffic and using highways instead of local roads. Over the course of the trial period, the drivers saw cost improvements of over 16%, on average, per kilometer. The study also found that incentives (variable pricing) are critical in order to change driver behavior, and that instantaneous feedback maximizes the change to behavior.

The Dutch planned on being one of the first to implement the scheme for widespread use. A road pricing scheme for trucks was scheduled to begin in 2012 called Anders Betalen voor Mobiliteit (Paying Differently for Mobility), with plans to extend the policy to passenger cars in 2016, but governmental changes in 2010 caused the plan to be put on hold.

Several other road pricing trials are beginning in the near future, including one in Leuven, Belgium and another in Singapore. Closer to home, Oregon has contemplated a plan to begin a road-use pricing scheme for electric car users in order to recoup costs not paid through gas taxes. While many concerns still exist, especially regarding privacy and the use of GPS or other tracking schemes, vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient and congestion is worsening around the globe. It remains to be seen what the policy reaction to these changes will be, but in the meantime, road use pricing remains a viable option to realize the true cost of driving and to fund transportation systems.

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