California Road Charge Pilot Program - Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a road charge?
A: A road charge is a system where all drivers pay to maintain the roads based on how much they drive, rather than how much gas they consume.
Q: What is the road charge pilot program?
A: Initiated by state law (Senate Bill 1077), the road charge pilot program is a comprehensive, four-year effort that includes the study, design, testing, evaluation and reporting of all aspects of a road charge system. The ultimate goal of the road charge pilot program is to assess whether a road charge system is a viable option for replacing the gas tax as a source of revenue to maintain our roadways and bridges in California.
Q: How does the road charge pilot work?
A: The road charge pilot is a field trial of road charging concepts. Volunteers throughout California will test various road charging methods to identify and evaluate issues related to the potential implementation of a road charge program and to assess the potential for mileage-based revenue collection for California’s roads and highways as an alternative to the gas tax system. At a minimum, the pilot will:
- Analyze alternative means of collecting road usage data, including at least one alternative that does not rely on electronic vehicle location data.
- Collect a minimum amount of personal information including location tracking information, necessary to implement the road charge program.
- Ensure that processes for collecting, managing, storing, transmitting, and destroying data are in place to protect the integrity of the data and safeguard the privacy of drivers.
Q: Why is the state studying a road charge?
A: An efficient transportation system is critical for California’s economy and quality of life. The revenues currently available for highways and local roads are inadequate to preserve and maintain existing infrastructure and to provide funds for improvements that would reduce congestion and improve service. The gas tax is an ineffective way for meeting California’s long-term revenue needs because it will steadily generate less revenue as cars become more fuel efficient and alternative sources of fuel are identified. By 2030, as much as half of the revenue that could have been collected will be lost to fuel efficiency. Additionally, bundling fees for roads and highways into the gas tax makes it difficult for users to understand the amount they are paying for roads and highways.
Through enactment of Senate Bill 1077 in 2014, the Legislature and Governor determined it important for the state to begin to explore alternative revenue sources that may be implemented in lieu of the antiquated gas tax structure now in place. They further required that any exploration of alternative revenue sources take privacy implications into account, especially with regard to location data. Travel locations or patterns are not allowed to be reported, and legal and technical safeguards must be in place to protect personal information.
Q: What is Senate Bill 1077?
A: Senate Bill 1077, authored by Senator DeSaulnier, was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 29, 2014 (Chapter 835, Statutes 2014). This legislation requires the State of California to design, implement, and evaluate a road charge pilot.
Q: How is the road charge pilot program organized? Who is in charge of it?
A: Senate Bill 1077 requires the California Transportation Commission (CTC), in consultation with the Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), to create a Road Usage Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to guide the development and evaluation of the pilot program to assess the potential for mileage-based revenue collection for California’s roads and highways as an alternative to the gas tax system.
Based on the recommendations of the TAC, CalSTA will implement a live pilot demonstration with volunteer drivers no later than January 1, 2017, to identify and evaluate issues related to the potential implementation of a road charge program in California. CalSTA will report its findings based on the results of the pilot program to the TAC, the CTC, and the appropriate policy and fiscal committees of the Legislature by no later than June 30, 2018. In their report, CalSTA will include a discussion of cost, privacy, jurisdictional issues, feasibility, complexity, acceptance, use of revenues, security and compliance, data collection technology, potential for additional driver services, and implementation issues. The pilot program will ultimately conclude in December 2018 upon submittal of recommendations by the CTC as part of their annual report to the Legislature.
Q: What is the Road Usage Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC)?
A: The TAC consists of 15 volunteer members who are representative of the telecommunications industry, highway user groups, data security and privacy industry, privacy rights advocacy organizations, the equity community, regional transportation agencies, national research and policymaking bodies including, members of the Legislature, and other relevant stakeholders. The TAC is required to gather public comment on issues and concerns related to the road charge pilot program and make recommendations to the Secretary of CalSTA on the design of a pilot to test alternative road charge approaches. The TAC may also make recommendations on the criteria to be used to evaluate the pilot program.
Q: How will the state determine how much a person is driving?
A: The Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) is currently studying all aspects and methods that might be used to report individual roadway use. To date, final decisions have not been made. However, it is anticipated that the TAC will recommend the state study a variety of manual and technology based options, and ultimately allow each pilot volunteer to select the option that suits them best.
Q: Will new technology be required?
A: The Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has been tasked to study all aspects of a road charging system. Findings in other states and countries that have studied a road charge method indicate there are readily available technical and non-technical methods to gathering mileage data. At this point the TAC has not made final recommendations as to the method(s) that will be studied during the pilot.
Q: Why not just raise the gas tax?
A: Raising the gas tax could be a short-term solution to the problem of funding roadway maintenance and repair. However, because Californians are driving increasingly fuel-efficient cars, we purchase fewer gallons of fuel each year. Some cars do not require gasoline to operate, such as electric vehicles, and therefore do not pay any gas tax. The California Legislature and the Governor are interested in viable long-term solutions to roadway funding. Regardless of the short-term measures we take now, there still is a need to find a long-term revenue policy that is equitable and provides sustainable funding to maintain our roadways and bridges.
Q: How will road charging affect people who buy electric or fuel efficient vehicles?
A: All vehicles, regardless of their fuel source, cause wear and tear to our roadways and contribute to roadway congestion. Because cars are increasingly more fuel efficient, we need to identify other revenue methods that are sustainable in the long-term and equitable across vehicle types. The Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) is examining the “user pays” principle: those who use the roadway network and benefit from it are also the ones to pay for it. The state of California is now carefully considering if road charge supports the “user pays” principle. The goal is to provide a system where all vehicles contribute to funding maintenance of our roadways in proportion to their roadway use, regardless of their fuel source.
Q: How will the state ensure that the money paid by roadway users will not be spent on other non-roadway uses?
A: California’s roadway network is funded primarily by fuel taxes. Motor vehicle fuel taxes are protected by Article IX of the State Constitution for use on public streets, highways and mass transit guideways. If in the future the state adopts a road charge system, similar protections can be applied to assure revenues from the road charge system go for transportation purposes.
Q: Are there other options besides a road charge?
A: Other potential options for funding roadway maintenance includes: increasing vehicle license fees, increasing the gas tax, increasing sales taxes, tolling more highways, or shifting money away from other priorities like education or health care.
Q: What are other states doing to fund transportation?
A: Most states are heavily reliant on gasoline taxes to fund their roadway maintenance. Like California, the majority of those states are encountering revenue shortfalls and struggling to maintain their roadway systems. Though road charging is being considered by many states nationwide, there are 12 western states that have formed a consortium to pool resources and study road charging issues that are common to the member states. The coalition is called the Western Road Usage Charge Consortium (WRUCC). One of the member states, Oregon, has already conducted pilots similar to what California is planning to do. Oregon has recently passed a law to implement the first permanent road charge program in the nation, due to commence in July 2015.
Q: How will road charging impact lower income families?
A: Equity is an important consideration and will help shape the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) recommendations for the road charge pilot design to assist in evaluating such impacts. However, lower income families often own older cars that are less fuel efficient. A road charge could be more equitable and reduce the cost of operating the older, less fuel efficient car.
Q: How will road charging impact rural households?
A: The Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) is carefully considering the impact a road charge may have on rural households and will likely recommend inclusion of design elements to assist in evaluating such impacts. Currently, many rural households already pay for longer travel distance through the gas tax.
Q: How will my privacy be protected?
A: Senate Bill 1077 requires the pilot program: (1) include at least one alternative that does not rely on electronic vehicle location data; (2) collect a minimum amount of personal information including location tracking information, necessary to implement the road charge program; and (3) ensure that processes for collecting, managing, storing, transmitting, and destroying data are in place to protect the integrity of the data and safeguard the privacy of drivers. The Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee members include some of the nation’s leading privacy advocates.
Following implementation of the pilot, the California State Transportation Agency will issue a report to the Legislature, the Technical Advisory Committee, and the California Transportation Commission that discusses privacy, including recommendations regarding public, private and law enforcement access to data collected and stored for purposes of the road charge to ensure individual privacy rights are protected pursuant to Section 1 of Article I of the California Constitution should permanent implementation of the road charge be considered in the future.