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Initial results of 2-year US field study on Mileage-Based Road User Charge

Researchers from the University of Iowa report the initial results of a 2-year field study evaluating the technical feasibility and user acceptance of mileage-based charging as a potential replacement for the current motor fuel tax in a paper in Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

The study was authorized by the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which reauthorized federal transportation funding. This study is the first to examine road user charges on a national and multi-jurisdictional scale.

Approximately 2,650 volunteers from 12 areas throughout the country participated in the study, which concluded in July 2010. The system mileage charges were totaled and apportioned to the federal, state, and local levels with the use of onboard computers installed in participants’ vehicles. The onboard computers contained Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers with an associated geographic database to identify the taxing jurisdictions in which the vehicles traveled

The average participant drove approximately 9,000 mi (14,484 km) during the study (the study totaled more than 21 million miles, or 33.8 million km). Approximately 92.5% of all driven miles were successfully measured by both the GPS and the onboard diagnostics system (OBD-II).

Of the miles driven without GPS, 6.9% could be reliably assigned to jurisdictions by using straightforward interpolation techniques. Approximately 0.6% of total miles driven could not be reliably assigned to a state or local jurisdiction. Participant attitudes regarding the system and the overall concept of mileage-based charging were assessed.

At the end of the study, 71% had a highly or somewhat positive view, and 17% held a highly or somewhat negative view. Participants consistently (but to varying degrees) preferred audit ability, which consisted of receiving detailed monthly invoices, over maximum privacy protection.


  • Paul F. Hanley, Jon G. Kuhl (2011) National Evaluation of Mileage-Based Charges for Drivers, Initial Results. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board DOI: 10.3141/2221-02



Mileage taxation is obviously preferred by drivers of big heavy gas guzzlers, and no doubt the study was pushed by the oil lobby. Don't think BEV drivers would be too happy about that change.

Roger Pham

Mileage taxation is a more fair way for drivers to contribute funding to road construction, road maintenance, and reduce traffic congestion. If you drive more, you'll pay more, fair and simple!
If you own a lot of cars, (car collector) but hardly drive each one but once in a while, why should you pay the same yearly taxes on each of them as those who drive their cars a lot daily?

Big Oil would hardly want gas guzzlers to be driven less. Big cars would be taxed more per driven mile than smaller cars, so the mileage tax would curb big-car driving more than smaller cars.


As the article states, the mileage-based charging would be "as a potential replacement for the current motor fuel tax." In other words, gas taxes would be eliminated and therefore the price of gas would be significantly lower, thereby raising consumption. Big oil would like that very much.

Increasing the gas tax further would tend to decrease demand, so oil companies would sell fewer gallons and with lower demand, their profit per gallon would be lower. You may have noticed the American Petroleum Institute's (oil lobby association) frequent TV ads against higher gas taxes.

While there has been some talk of setting higher mileage rates for heavier vehicles, this article did not mention that potentially applied sliding scale.

If you had a big collection of ICE cars that you seldom drove, you would not buy very much gas under our current taxation scheme, and therefore pay very little in gas (road-use) taxes. Personal property taxes (or registration fees) on vehicles have never been discussed in relation to a potential gas vs. mileage tax switch.

The mileage-based taxation scheme is cumbersome and expensive, typically requiring GPS-systems to be installed in all vehicles to determine their mileage. The current motor fuel tax has the advantage of encouraging people to drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, which I believe is a good thing. Certainly you would still be free to drive a gas guzzler.

Derek Hofmann

No, ChrisL, it's actually the gasoline consumption based scheme that favors gas guzzlers. The Generalized Fourth Power Law[1] says that a two ton vehicle causes 16 times as much road wear as a one tone vehicle. However, the two ton vehicle only pays about twice as much in gasoline taxes.

An equitable taxation scheme would include a tax on each gallon of gasoline, to cover the environmental and health costs of burning gasoline, and a mileage tax, to cover the road wear. This also fairly charges BEVs that would otherwise require an additional tax anyway.



it seems to me that the current system of paying tax on each gallon of fuel works pretty well. maybe add an annual mileage based fee for BEVs, but it will be quite a while before BEVs account for 10% of traffic. Why fix a system that works?


The automobile is freedom.

So we have the Feds further violate our rights with all cars GPS tracked, which legally requires a sworn and detailed purpose and warrant authorized by a judge?

Like the Feds violating our email/privacy via the "Patriot" act - we would never get this off the books.

Or like our 15%/60 years deducted social security retirement accounts now being called "on the table" for reduction(or already stolen)?

This is the direct theft of every American's income and rights.


If the government actually imposed a mileage-based vehicle tax system, I have a hard time believing they would tax miles for two-ton vehicles at a rate 16 times higher than that for one-ton vehicles.

Derek Hofmann

Shouldn't they, when the two-ton vehicle causes 16 times as much road wear as the one-ton vehicle?


Two-ton vehicles cause negligible pavement damage. It's essentially all caused by heavy vehicles (semis, buses, garbage trucks).

Vehicles ought to be taxed by their externalities. These include congestion, air pollution, and noise. ICEVs should pay a lot more than EVs for air and noise, and oversized sight-blocking vehicles like SUVs should pay more for aggravating congestion.


Derek - Yes, they absolutely should tax 2-tonners at a rate 16 times higher than a 2000 pound car (like mine). My point was, they would never do that because of the extreme difference in rates. Two-tonners would scream, politicians would balk.

I agree with the E-poet, both paragraphs.

However, what's logical and just will not happen. What's politically most expedient will.

Roger Pham

Thanks, ChrisL, for pointing out that the mileage-based tax is intended to replace the motor-fuel tax.
Indeed, the motor-fuel tax should not be abolished, since a lot of tax-payers' money was used to fund the "oil wars" to secure the flow of oil, and on oil subsidies.

I also object to the use of GPS device in vehicles, making it way more complicated and in violation of the rights to Privacy. A simpler way is to use the OBD II readout that is done when you bring your car in for state inspection. This info is reported directly to the State, who will then have the info to assess your state and local car registration tax, taking consideration where you live and where you work in order to factor in additional congestion-related charges.

Big vehicles should obviously pay higher mileage tax than smaller vehicles. Agree with E-P's assessment.


ChrisL: suppose a twenty-ton vehicle pays $1000/year based on the fourth-power law. A two-ton vehicle would pay ten cents a year and a one-ton vehicle would pay 1 cent (rounded). Not worth worrying about, or even assessing below a rather high threshold (e.g. 4 tons).

Nothing stops tax authorities from reading license plates (a la London) and assessing congestion taxes for using roadways during high-demand periods. Nor does anything stop authorities from pooling mileage-based fees and distributing them based on the usage of roads as measured by vehicle counts. GPS is not necessary.

Now watch any attempt to quash the requirement for GPS logs to be evaded with double-talk.


While the US wastes $trillions on oil wars, the longest in our history, tax the oil.

While US oil firms are taxed at 9% vs 25% general business rate, tax the oil.

While US oil firms get huge subsidies, depletion 'allowances', and Enron-like accounting estimates, tax the oil.

EVs have none of this waste, tax the oil.


For those readers that believe this would replace the gasoline tax think again. You'll be paying both. But then the Spinach Party would welcome such a development.

Derek Hofmann

Engineer-Poet, $1,000 is far from enough for heavy trucks. Even $14,000 per year "does not come close to paying for the damage to roads and bridges caused by trucks":

But road wear is only one problem caused by automobiles. Another is air pollution, "up to $1600 per person annually":,2933,451207,00.html

Another is traffic congestion, which can be permanently eliminated through variable tolls, something the gas tax alone can't do efficiently.

These are the reasons why relying solely on the gas tax is insufficient, inefficient, and inequitable.


Fine. Given the 4th-power law, $32,000/year for a 40-ton truck is $2,000/year for a 20-ton truck is $125/year for a 10-ton truck is twenty cents a year for a 2-ton vehicle.

road wear is only one problem caused by automobiles. Another is air pollution
Which I listed above, and is essentially eliminated by the EVs that this mileage levy are supposed to "make pay their fair share".

And you've evaded the issue of the privacy invasion of GPS logging with doubletalk, as I predicted above.


Too late Engineer-Poet.

Ninth Circuit Court already ruled that warrants aren't necessary for a federal agency to put GPS tracking devices on your vehicle even if it is in your driveway when they place the device.


That decision doesn't mean victims can't remove the tracker and throw it away. Requiring people to have trackers without any suspicion (let alone warrant) is more or less what the GPS billing scheme amounts to.

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