MnDOT looking into mileage-based user fee

Published 2:44 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Monday that it will recruit 500 people from Wright and Hennepin counties to take part in research to test technology that could someday be used to collect a mileage-based user fee.

MnDOT will start recruiting volunteers for the Minnesota Road Fee Test in May and research will begin in July 2011.

“This research will provide important feedback from motorists about the effectiveness of using technology in a car or truck to gather mileage information,” said Cory Johnson, project manager. “We are researching alternative financing methods today that could be used 10 or 20 years from now when the number of fuel efficient and hybrid cars increase and no longer produce enough revenue from a gas tax to build and repair roads.”

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In 2007 the Minnesota Legislature appropriated $5 million from the trunk highway fund for the demonstration. MnDOT has contracted with several companies to conduct the technology research. An adequate evaluation of MBUF technology must include a parallel policy evaluation, so MnDOT awarded a $395,000 contract to the University of Minnesota Humphrey School to conduct the policy study.

If a mileage-based user fee were implemented, motorists would pay a fee based on how many miles they drive, rather than on how much gas a vehicle uses, which is how Minnesota’s gas tax is now designed.

The research will help MnDOT and public policy leaders understand the challenges and opportunities in such a system.

MnDOT is seeking volunteers from Wright and Hennepin counties because the population offers a mix of motorists who travel on rural and metro area roads. The volunteers will use a Smart Phone with a GPS application that also has been programmed to allow motorists to submit information, which MnDOT will use to evaluate whether the device provides timely, reliable travel data from that specific trip. In addition, the test will examine whether other applications, such as real-time traffic alerts that provide information on construction zones, crashes, congestion and road hazards, are effective in communicating safety messages to motorists. Three different groups of volunteers will test the devices for six months each. The volunteers will be paid a nominal stipend to cover the expenses of this test.

The technical research is designed to record miles and road use while strictly protecting the privacy of participants. The participants’ names and home contact information, as well as the data that identifies their vehicle, financial account information, travel routes, and days and times of trips, are classified as not public by the Minnesota Department of Administration to ensure that the research and results are valid.

MnDOT has established a policy task force to examine implications of implementing a mileage-based user fee. The task force, to be chaired by former state representative Bernie Lieder, will hold meetings throughout the state and survey Minnesotans about concerns that should be addressed before such a fee could be implemented.

Other state DOTs also are researching alternative financing methods to supplement or replace a gas tax. The state of Oregon conducted a similar study completed in November 2007 and Iowa, Nevada and Texas are among several states Minnesota’s highway revenues are derived from three sources: the gas tax, vehicle registration fee or tabs and the motor vehicle sales tax. These funding sources support construction and maintenance of a highway system. Based on its last state transportation plan, MnDOT anticipates as much as a $50 billion transportation funding shortfall during the next 20 years.

The research is scheduled to end by December 2012 and results will be made available to the public at