Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tolling From Space

Driving from Fort Worth to McKinney, Texas used to be free from a toll.  This is rapidly changing.  By the end of this decade, you could be subject to five different toll segments.  The reality of our future should be clear - - Tolling = Mobility.  This relationship will drive our transportation future because the Highway Trust Fund is nearly bankrupt (from the Post Office to Social Security to transportation - - the "B" word is in high demand).  The fund is backed by a federal excise tax on gasoline of $18.4 per gallon that has not been adjusted for inflation since 1993.  We will consume less gasoline (our electric car future will only hurt) in a future where the probability of a a gasoline tax increase is near zero.

Bloomberg Businessweek covered this in How to Get American Transportation Moving (March 5, 2013).  The article provides a glimpse of the future:

"Finding a sustainable funding source will take a combination of creative approaches.  The first is technological.  One promising replacement for the gas tax is a "vehicle-miles-traveled fee," which would use satellite tracking or a variety of other methods to charge drivers by mileage, regardless of the fuel they use.  The technology required for widespread use of such a system is years away, and protecting privacy while monitoring driving habits will be a challenge.  But the concept - placing the funding burden directly on those who use the roads - is a smart one."

Our funding future may be closer than you think.  Skymeter is a firm that seems to understand this.  I-35 between Dallas-Fort Worth to Austin needs major upgrades and improvements.  So when I make the trip in 2020 to Austin, I have a toll tag that is embedded in my registration sticker on my windshield.  A section between Waco and Georgetown has already been completed.  The Skymeter systems bills me for both legs of the trip.

One highway funding solution starts in outer space - - the next time you are stuck in traffic, just look up and and think about the future.



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