Road Usage Charge (RUC)
Road usage charging (RUC), sometimes referred to as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fees or mileage-based user fees (MBUF), is a policy whereby motorists pay for use of the roadway network based on distance traveled. With growing interest in sustainable and equitable methods of paying for maintenance and operations of transport infrastructure in the face of declining fuel tax revenues, worldwide interest in road usage charging programs has grown significantly over the past decade.
Like tolling, RUC is a direct user fee that supports the “user pays” principle of transportation funding as well as the notion of managing road networks as utilities. Whereas toll systems are generally deployed on one or several facilities, such as an expressway corridor, bridge, or tunnel, road usage charges apply to all roads in a defined jurisdiction or geography at all times. RUC can be implemented using a wide range of approaches, from paper licenses and odometer readings to automated technologies, such as in-vehicle devices and telematics systems built in to vehicles. GPS and other location technologies are not required to measure or report distance traveled.
The motivation to explore and implement RUC is based on the growth in population and vehicle miles traveled as fuel tax revenues continue their permanent decline, owing to two persistent trends:
- Consumers are purchasing and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, including electric vehicles, thus paying less in fuel tax per mile driven than ever before, and in some cases paying no fuel tax at all.
- Although fuel prices have increased dramatically in the past decade, U.S. Federal fuel tax revenues and most state fuel tax revenues have not come close to keeping pace. Most fuel taxes consist of a fixed number of cents per gallon and are not tied to inflation.
New Zealand has collected RUC from diesel cars since 1977. Oregon will begin collecting RUC from 5,000 volunteer light vehicles in 2015. Many European countries have implemented vignette systems applied to main roads, which are a variation of RUC based on time rather than distance (e.g., 1 day, 1-2 weeks, 1 month, 1 year). New Zealand, several European countries, and four U.S. states (Oregon, Kentucky, New Mexico, and New York) also collect weight- and distance-based fees from heavy trucks, which are another variation of RUC. Numerous U.S. states and regions have begun to study and test RUC policies and concepts for light vehicles, including the Western RUC Consortium which is a multi-state consortium for sharing research as noted by the following figure. (Note: PowerPoint figure goes here.)
Links to key RUC resources:
- Documentation of Oregon RUC policy development and testing (2010-Present): ODOT RUC website
- Documentation of Washington State RUC study (2012-Present): Washington State Road Usage Charge Steering Committee website
- Recent documentation of New Zealand RUC program (2009-Present): 2013 regulations update website, 2012 RUC Act, and 2009 Independent Review Group Report
- 2013 IBTTA Symposium on Transportation Finance and Mileage Based User Fees: Website
- Documentation of Minnesota pilot test (2012-2013): Operations Report and Evaluation Report.
- GAO Report on viability of mileage fees (2012): Report
- TRB Joint Subcommittee on VMT Revenues: Website
- Mileage Based User Fee Alliance: Website
- DCL brochure on RUC: Brochure
- State Motor Fuel Tax Rates, 2013