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Leidos Program Manager Shares Insight into Latest Edge Research Report

Posted: May 31, 2024

Sustainability is a hot button issue in the transportation issue, but with all the questions swirling around implementation, one keeps rising to the top—

How do we sustainably fund transportation?

Senior Transportation Planner and Program Manager at Leidos Sonika Sethi recently authored the SAE Edge™ Research Report Toward an Integrated Transportation Pricing Approach Using Vehicle-based Technologies. The report presents critical technology issues around a miles-based sustainable transportation funding solution, in light of the trend of declining gas tax receipts.

“Recent legislations are prioritizing the manufacture and sales of electric vehicles as opposed to gas-based vehicles in the personal-use vehicle market. Internal combustion engine (ICE) technologies also  continue to advance every year to make gas-fueled vehicles more efficient—i.e., deliver more milage with less fuel. And then of course we’re seeing the rise of other, greener, alternative fuels on the horizon (e.g. hydrogen). In this scenario of increasing diversification of vehicle fuel sources, a transportation funding paradigm tied to a single fuel source – gasoline- in the form of the motor fuel tax (or gas tax) is a risky proposition.” Sonika said.

National gas taxes have not been updated in accordance with inflation since the mid-1900s.  The SAE report discusses how miles-based user fee exploration has risen in popularity with several State and Federally funded pilot initiatives. These pilots explore aspects of a user-fee program based on miles traveled (variably known as “road usage charge” or “mileage-based user” fee).

An accurate and reliable miles-based user fee program would primarily require miles driven data from each driver on the road. The SAE report investigates the possibility of obtaining this data directly from vehicles and the data ownership, privacy protection and equity aspects that must be considered in this regard. 

“It is particularly important to have legislation that clarifies who the [miles-driven] data belongs to, how it can be accessed and stored, and how it must be protected throughout its lifecycle. While this can seem pretty daunting, there are models of distance-based charge implementation from other parts of the world, not to mention, US State-level programs which can be studied to inform regulation at the national level.” Sonika said.

These include RUC in New Zealand and as well as programs in certain US States, including Utah and Oregon. Currently there is potential for cross-platform methods to gather miles-driven data. This would consist of a combination of digital information via connected vehicle services alongside more manual recording methods for older vehicle models.

“The big question is how we collect the data to develop a more sustainable tax system. You cannot mandate a certain method of collecting data that excludes a large population of the people.” Sonika said.

A key pre-requisite for using miles data directly from vehicles is trust between public and private entities that collect, handle and use this data.  Only time will tell what direction new vehicle funding programs will go in and how different transportation pricing methods and approaches converge to the most user-friendly and efficient model possible.

Find Toward an Integrated Transportation Pricing Approach Using Vehicle-based Technologies and SAE’s complete Edge™ Research Report catalogue online.