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Summary: Session 8
Interactive Discussion

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GINGER GOODIN, Moderator (Bio)
Texas Transportation Institute

The interactive discussion in "conversation circle" format finished two days of panel and small group discussion. The session focused on three critical questions related to the implementation pathways that emerged from the event, with a goal of drawing conclusions and identifying the next steps forward.

At the beginning of the session, all of the participants from the conference were presented with 13 questions that addressed the issues confronting an implementation of a mileage-based user fee, if it were decided to be the right solution to finance the transportation system. The conference participants were given the ability to influence the direction of the interactive discussion by paring the original 13 questions down to three that were believed to be the most critical.

A voting instrument was used as the tool for selection process. All of the 13 questions were printed on a large poster that was placed on the wall of the conference room and each participant was given five adhesive dots to affix near the question. Each dot represented one vote and the participants were given the freedom to vote for a single question numerous times, if they pleased. After the conclusion of the sixth session, all of the votes were tallied and the questions with the three top accumulated scores were presented as discussion topics in the session.

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The original 13 questions and the results from the voting tally were as follows:

What is the most effective way to increase public acceptance?
How can development be advanced in the face of the lack of public trust in government and public ownership in the problem?
How should research, development and implementation activities at the state level be coordinated?
What is the likely implementation pathway? (National framework, state led, voluntary opt-in, etc.)
How can national, state, and local political leadership be developed?
What are the most compelling reasons to pursue? What is the problem being addressed by implementing MBUF?
Who has a stake in the development and how should stakeholders be engaged?
Where will funding come for research, testing and implementation?
Who should lead the development of privacy standards?
What will be required to produce a coherent vision?
Given the amount of research and testing that has occurred over the past decade, what is the next logical step? Are we at the point of where only large-scale implementation or trials will answer the crucial questions that remain?
Who should lead the development of privacy standards?
Is it possible to develop a dual infrastructure system to implement a limited, voluntary opt-in MBUF system?

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After a review of the voting results, the two questions with the most interest were combined into a single question due to having a similar public acceptance theme. The three topics with the highest interest were presented as the theme for the session. A discussion circle format was used as the main tool for administering the interactive discussion. Each question had an allotted time of roughly 20 minutes, whereby participants had the choice to enter a circle of chairs that were assembled in the conference room to speak on issues pertaining to a specific question. Attendees who were not sitting in the circle had to sit on the outside and were not allowed to speak. Speakers directed their response toward the moderator and could not engage in side discussions during the session. Each response had a one-minute time limit and had to pertain to the question. The participants also rotated in and out of the circle in a process to encourage involvement from all of the conference attendees.

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The responses to the three main questions were as follows:

  1. What is the most likely implementation pathway (national framework, state-led, voluntary opt-in, etc.)?
    • Congress will not consider vehicle mileage fees to finance the transportation system. Any level of involvement from the national level is not in favor at this time, and mileage fee trials are currently happening at the state level.
    • The federal government will only get involved once vehicle mileage fees are implemented in about 12 states.
    • Application of a vehicle mileage fee will not happen anytime soon, and if it does happen, it will first occur on the state level. The adoption of a mileage fee system will likely be voluntary based on a flat fee to cover 25,000 or 30,000 miles, or some other estimated mileage. Recorded vehicle mileage from a voluntary device will discount the flat fee. The fuel tax will not go away and the co-existence between the fuel tax and vehicle mileage fees will exist. Traditional gasoline-powered vehicles will not be assessed a mileage fee anytime soon.
    • The fact that the gas tax is unsustainable is an issue of national significance. The states will ultimately decide transportation finance issues. From a driver perspective, no user wants to consider at 50 different systems. A national framework is needed that will allow for a single set of accounts that can process federal, state, and local fees.
    • The states need to get money to establish a framework that can work across other jurisdictions.
    • The states will only be successful if they can engage the urban areas. The congestion pricing plan only failed in New York City because politicians in Albany vetoed the plan.
    • The Federal government will be involved to set the rules for mileage pricing. Local choice in implementing mileage fees is a possibility where a region could charge a different rate for a different share of services. Mileage fees will not gain any traction if they are still being considered as a gas tax replacement.
    • Let the states develop a framework for implementation, because the federal government does not have the magic key for implementation.
    • It may be okay for the states to lead the mileage fee effort because grassroots-level involvement may be possible.
    • Mileage fees will happen at the state level, but coordination needs to occur at the metropolitan or regional level.
  2. How should research, development, and implementation at the state level be coordinated?
    • There is a need for research to be better structured and coordinated. Projects do not necessarily answer the same questions even though they are testing similar systems.
    • The implementation of mileage fees are reminiscent of the trials from when congestion pricing was originally implemented in urban areas. Many local entities will want to see research that is specific to their localities. Research projects will overlap, but that is not bad overall.
    • Each state should be allowed to do what they feel is necessary. It is too early to have true coordination at the national level, but coordination is needed and would come about as the result of field trials.
    • The role of the federal government is to fund research and development and to share knowledge.
    • State legislators are interested in what is going on in other states, but they have their own constituencies. They are more concerned about how these issues affect their specific constituencies as opposed to the other states. Research is therefore likely to be repeated from state to state because DOTs have to take direction from their legislature.
    • Our State does not have a lot of funding to support vehicle mileage fee system research. Could a pooled fund study be done to investigate wide-ranging issues?
    • It will be hard not to duplicate efforts that are being done by other States. The states need to figure out how to leverage their funds to the best of their abilities. Pooled-fund research is one approach to leverage funds from multiple states.
  3. What is the most effective way to increase public acceptance, especially in the face of the lack of public trust in government and public ownership in the problem?
    • The public needs to be convinced that something wrong with the motor fuel tax. An evolutionary path to public acceptance should be considered. The approach used in Oregon is an example, where electric vehicles were proposed as the first vehicle class to implement a vehicle mileage fee.
    • Traditional means of gaining public acceptance is not succeeding with the topic of transportation finance.
    • Businesses should become involved as a stakeholder in any discussion about transportation. The business community should hear the message that the process for financing transportation is problematic.
    • Elected officials are more concerned with keeping their job. The grassroots should be engaged as a means to gain public acceptance if political leaders find it convenient to ignore the facts about the problem. The public believes they are overtaxed, but do not realize they are paying a very limited amount toward supporting the transportation system.
    • Roughly 80% of transportation financing has been supported from local and state revenue streams. Therefore, those pursuing MBUF should be looking to the success of smaller scale, local initiatives. In these cases, tax increases have been achieved by illustrating what the specific benefits of the tax increase will be. The public is more than willing to support a good transportation system, but they have to know where the money is going and how it will be spent. Discussing taxes and funding with the public will only be successful if it is led with benefits. The public acceptance campaign is not a six-week effort, but rather a continuous campaign.
    • Look at the role of trials in influencing public perceptions. Trials may not be the cheapest way to influence public acceptance, but they can be very effective.
    • National economic competitiveness is a critical component toward raising awareness about transportation finance.
    • This is the first year that mileage fees have become an issue with national political campaigns. Part of the reason why implementation is difficult is because individuals are looking for points of disagreement in a hyper-partisan environment.
    • Mileage fees and transportation finance are not emotional issues to the public. People need to listen to the experts and the experts need to have a message and a target.
    • When looking to gain acceptance from a state legislature, focus on the committee chairs for transportation and finance issues.
    • The most salient prospect in gaining public acceptance – electric vehicles do not pay taxes beyond a registration fee.
    • All politics is local and we need to focus on placing the priorities of local people first. Local officials are the ones that the public will go to with questions about this topic, not university researchers and consultants.
    • Experts in the field of transportation need to develop an action plan before the grassroots-level organizations reach the politicians.
    • Implementing MBUF will be hard work and it will take a long time.

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