Comparing the Performance of Transportation Pricing Strategies in Terms of Revenue Generation, Benefits, and Equity Impacts

Research Lead: Alan Jenn

UC Campus(es): UC Davis

Problem Statement: Across the United States, a large proportion of funding for transportation infrastructure comes from gasoline taxes. Unfortunately, these fuel taxes face large shortfalls due to inflation, improvements in fuel economy, and adoption of alternative fuel vehicles. Many states have begun to investigate the use of mileage-based fees as a replacement for gasoline taxes (in California, see SB 1077 (2014) and SB 339 (2021)). As state transportation departments and the federal government contemplate implementing these fees, there are several performance-based metrics advocated by a variety of stakeholders to adjust the mileage charge. These include weighting the fee by the vehicle’s fuel efficiency (pricing that is internalized by the gasoline tax but would be lost with a flat mileage fee) to encourage use of more efficient vehicles, or by the vehicle’s curb weight to better reflect damages to road surfaces. In addition, separate vehicle pricing mechanisms such as congestion pricing are also being investigated through pilot programs in several cities across the nation. Given the novelty of these mechanisms, an analysis of their contribution to revenue generation, associated benefits of each type of fee, and equity impacts among different communities and populations is critical to the success of the future of vehicle pricing.

Project Description: This project will build upon previously completed work on synergistic implementation opportunities between different vehicle pricing mechanisms and the avenues with which these pricing mechanisms can replace the gasoline tax. The research team will use a previously established framework to develop a generalizable spreadsheet tool for entities and stakeholders interested in the implementation of a specific type of vehicle pricing mechanism within California. The tool will feature a flexible set of design parameters so that users can customize what type, where, and how a vehicle pricing mechanism would be implemented. The tool would then be able to provide estimates of revenue generation from the pricing program based on the number of users that would be participating in different areas of the state (a framework that has already been developed by the researcher) based on the regional coverage and rate of expected growth of the program. The tool will also calculate costs to users in different areas across the state of California. This will provide stakeholders with the ability to directly compare the fees that would be paid through vehicle pricing to the traditional gasoline tax. The project team will also provide an overview of the expected benefits associated with each of the vehicle pricing mechanisms. While a full-fledged quantitative analysis of benefits for any single vehicle pricing program would require its own research project, the project team will be able to provide a summary of the range of anticipated effects, such as decreases in traffic or reductions in emissions, based on existing programs around the world.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $49,975

Project Partner(s): Caltrans