"This research will provide important feedback from motorists about the effectiveness of using technology in a car or truck to gather mileage information," Cory Johnson, project manager, said in a statement issued by Mn/DOT. "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."
The Minnesota Legislature in 2007 appropriated $5 million from the trunk highway fund for the demonstration. Mn/DOT has contracted with several companies to conduct the technology research. An adequate evaluation of technology must include a parallel policy evaluation, so Mn/DOT awarded a $395,000 contract to the University of Minnesota to conduct a policy study alongside the technology research.
If a vehicle miles traveled user fee were implemented, motorists would pay a tax 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 Mn/DOT and public-policy leaders understand the challenges and opportunities in such a system.
Volunteers will use a smartphone with a GPS application that also has been programmed to allow motorists to submit information that Mn/DOT can 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.
Other state transportation departments also are researching alternative financing methods to supplement or replace a gas tax. Oregon completed a similar study in November 2007. Iowa, Nevada, and Texas are among several states currently researching mileage-based user fees, according to Mn/DOT.
Minnesota's highway revenues are derived from three sources: the gas tax, vehicle registration fees, and a motor-vehicle sales tax. Based on its last state transportation plan, Mn/DOT anticipates as much as a $50 billion transportation funding shortfall during the next 20 years.
The research is scheduled to end by December 2012.