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Taxing drivers by the mile and not by the gallon

A tax on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) was shot down last year by President Obama. But a new study by respected transportation experts – and a successful pilot program in Oregon – should revive the idea.

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As more Americans buy hybrid or electric cars, drivers in traditional gas-only vehicles are bound to start asking: Why should I still be paying more in fuel taxes? Don’t we all use the highways?

Indeed, the gas tax is quickly becoming an unjust way to finance the costs of roads and bridges. All vehicles, whether they be a Hummer or a Prius, use the same infrastructure, which needs to be built and maintained regardless of a car’s fuel type.

There is an alternative, one that is fair, already proven, and, based on a new study by some 80 experts, the best way to start financing surface transportation.

It is a pay-as-you-go fee system based simply on distance, or a tax on “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT). The idea is the centerpiece recommendation of the study, released Monday, called “Well Within Reach: America’s New Transportation Agenda.” The report is based on a recent three-day conference of experts at the University of Virginia.

Oregon already tested a VMT system in 2006-07, using 299 volunteer motorists. The pilot program equipped their vehicles with devices that allowed gas stations to track their mileage during each fill-up. More than 90 percent of the participants said they would agree to use it in lieu of the gas tax, and the state’s governor is now seeking $10 million to expand the program.

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