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Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees (2016)

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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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Suggested Citation:"Report Contents." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23401.
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CONTENTS 1 SUMMARY 7 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION Study Motivation and Research Questions, 7 Overview of Study Methods, 7 Putting Mileage-Based User Fee Public Opinion in Context: Research Evidence on Public Support for Other Transportation Taxes and Fees, 8 Overview of Report Contents, 8 9 CHAPTER TWO SETTING THE STAGE: OVERVIEW OF PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH METHODS Public Opinion Surveys, 9 Qualitative Research, 9 Content Analysis of Media Coverage, 10 Secondary Analysis of Existing Public Opinion Research, 10 11 CHAPTER THREE LEARNING FROM QUALITATIVE PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH ON MILEAGE-BASED USER FEES Methods for Finding and Analyzing Qualitative Research Studies, 11 Description of Qualitative Studies Identified for Analysis, 11 Findings by Theme, 13 Interpreting the Findings in Context: Respondents Do Not Understand Current Sources of Transportation Revenue, 17 Summary of Key Findings, 18 19 CHAPTER FOUR LEARNING FROM PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY RESEARCH ON MILEAGE-BASED USER FEES Methods for Finding and Analyzing Survey Research, 19 Description of Mileage-Based User Fee Public Opinion Polls and Questions Analyzed, 20 Analysis of General Support for a Mileage-Based User Fee, 22 Analysis of Mileage-Based User Fee Questions Focused on Replacing the Gas Tax, 24 Analysis of Mileage-Based User Fee Questions About Privacy, 26 Analysis of Mileage-Based User Fee Questions About Fairness, 26 Mileage-Based User Fee Questions on Other Topics, 27 Conclusions, 27 30 CHAPTER FIVE LEARNING FROM MEDIA COVERAGE Methods for Finding and Analyzing Media Stories, 30 Numbers of Stories, Types of Media Sources, and Mileage-Based User Fee Programs Discussed, 31 Tone of Mileage-Based User Fee Coverage, 32 Types of People Quoted in Media Stories, 33 Concerns About Mileage-Based User Fees, 34 Benefits of Mileage-Based Fees, 36 Other Issues, 38 Summary of Key Chapter Findings, 40 42 CHAPTER SIX CONCLUSIONS: KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH Summary of Key Study Findings, 42 Future Research Needs, 43 Conclusions, 45

46 REFERENCES 50 APPENDIX A Summary Information About the Public Opinion Surveys Analyzed 109 APPENDIX B Tables Presenting Survey Question Findings, by Theme 134 APPENDIX C Resources for Identifying Public Opinion Research and Media Stories 136 APPENDIX D Media Story Coding Scheme Note: Many of the photographs, figures, and tables in this report have been converted from color to grayscale for printing. The electronic version of the report (posted on the web at www.trb.org) retains the color versions.

SUMMARY PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF MILEAGE-BASED USER FEES In recent years, the real value of fuel tax revenues has declined significantly as a result of increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, failure to adjust tax rates to keep up with inflation, and fewer miles driven. This decline in the purchasing power of the revenues collected has led to ongoing funding challenges for transportation infrastructure and increased uncertainty about future funding options. In the face of these challenges, interest has grown in the poten- tial for replacing the current fuel tax with a new road usage charge assessed on miles trav- eled. This revenue option is referred to as a mileage-based user fee (MBUF), road usage charge (RUC), vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, or per-mile tax. As of April 2015, 26 U.S. states were exploring MBUFs in some way, whether finalizing plans for a small-scale pro- gram (Oregon), designing a pilot (California), conducting a study, or through membership in the Western Road-Usage Charge Consortium or Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance. To help fill the gaps in knowledge about public opinion of MBUFs, this synthesis study was designed to address the following questions: 1. What research has been conducted that identifies U.S. public opinion on MBUFs, including surveys and focus groups? 2. What is public opinion about mileage fees? 3. How does public opinion vary according to such factors as geography, respondent demographics, time, and common themes, trends, and factors that influence public acceptance or rejection? 4. What additional research is needed to address gaps in the current understanding of public opinion regarding MBUFs? To answer these questions, this report analyzes three sources of information on public opinion about mileage fees: (1) qualitative research studies, such as focus groups; (2) quan- titative public opinion surveys; and (3) media stories covering mileage fees. Twelve qualitative studies were identified that explore perceptions about mileage fees, all conducted since 1995. Ten of the studies used focus groups as their primary research method, one used interviews as its primary research method, and one used a “deliberative forum” process in which participants listened to presentations, took part in group conversa- tions, and answered survey questions. Results from the qualitative studies were analyzed to identify participants’ opinions about 13 themes. The themes fell into three categories: (1) concerns related to administering MBUFs, (2) concerns about how they will affect drivers, and (3) other issues. Thirty-eight public opinion surveys conducted between 1995 and 2015 were identified that, collectively, included 167 unique questions about MBUFs. For each survey, data were

2 collected on such general characteristics as geographic scope, survey mode, sampling frame, survey sponsor type, year the survey was conducted, and how the MBUF was framed. In addition, where possible, information was gathered about the survey respondents: gender, age, income, education, race/ethnicity, and political affiliation. (In many cases, respondent characteristics were unavailable.) The survey data were then analyzed through a meta-anal- ysis process, looking for patterns in opinion that arise when the results from many surveys are combined. The third source of information for this synthesis study is media stories about MBUFs. A total of 359 media stories were found for the years 2010 to 2014. The stories came from national newspapers, online business journals, online industry blogs, magazines, and tech- nology blogs. A content analysis process was used to analyze the stories both quantitatively and qualitatively. The media analysis found few media stories that presented the opinions of the general public (only 5% of all stories) or discussed the topic of public support for MBUFs (3% of all stories). Thus, the media story analysis results do not provide direct evidence about public opinion on MBUFs. However, the media stories provide rich detail about the types of issues that interest the transportation professionals and decision makers interviewed for the stories. When considering all three data sources—focus groups, surveys, and media stories— several key findings emerge. First, the data show that the majority of the public does not yet support an MBUF system. For example, across the 33 poll questions that asked about support for an MBUF (without specifying that the fee would replace the gas tax), mean support was only 24%, with a range from 8% to 50%. The qualitative research supports the more generalizable survey find- ings that most participants did not support the MBUF concept. All the qualitative studies reported in depth on many respondent concerns about MBUFs, whereas the studies dis- cussed far fewer positive opinions. Related to the question of whether people support the general concept of an MBUF is the question of whether they support replacing the gas tax with an MBUF. Both the survey and qualitative studies found that participants saw no compelling reason to replace the gas tax. The average support across the 23 survey questions that addressed replacing the gasoline tax with an MBUF system (which was presented as a hypothetical scenario) was 23%. Support ranged from 8% to 42%. Complementing this finding, the authors of many of the qualitative studies concluded that the public saw no reason to replace the gas tax with an MBUF. The study results provide tentative evidence that MBUF support might rise over time, especially if new pilot programs or other activities familiarize people with the MBUF con- cept. The meta-analysis of survey data shows that mean support for replacing the gas tax with an MBUF has increased slightly over time, and surveys of participants in two MBUF pilot programs found relatively high support levels, suggesting that direct experience with an MBUF noticeably increases support for these fees. Also, the media story analysis found that the percentage of stories taking a positive tone toward MBUFs gradually increased from 2010 to 2014. These various pieces of evidence suggesting that MBUF support could increase over time align with evidence from social psychology research that message repeti- tion is a key factor in changing public opinion and attitudes toward an issue. The qualitative studies and media story analyses provide a rich and detailed picture of the factors that most likely influence the lack of public support for MBUFs, and in a few cases, survey evidence indicates that these factors matter to the public at large. Privacy and fairness were two of the themes discussed most often.

3 Privacy was a prominent theme in both the focus group studies and media stories. The topic was discussed in virtually all the qualitative studies evaluated, and the authors of several of these studies highlighted privacy as one of the main objections to an MBUF system. Participants were most alarmed by technology that collected data on the loca- tion or time of travel, but even simple odometer-based systems raised concern. The media coverage analysis supports the notion that privacy is a common concern; half of the media stories discussed privacy issues in some way. As for the survey data, responses to seven of the 10 privacy questions showed that at least half of the respondents believed that privacy was a concern. A second prominent theme in the qualitative studies and media stories was fairness, with the MBUF system framed as both fair and unfair. For example, many focus group participants were concerned that fuel-efficient vehicle owners would pay comparatively more in MBUFs than they pay under the gas tax system, while owners of less fuel-efficient vehicles would pay comparatively less. These people thought it was unfair that a switch from the gas tax to an MBUF would penalize those who were “doing their part” to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, some people thought an MBUF was fairer than the gas tax because with an MBUF all drivers, including drivers of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles, would pay similar amounts of tax to maintain roads. Yet other fairness discussions centered on the impact MBUFs would have on lower-income drivers, rural drivers, truckers, and commuters, and whether an MBUF system would allow some unethical drivers to cheat the system by avoiding payment altogether. The survey data do not provide clear evidence about which fairness issues are most important to individuals, but the data do support the notion that fairness is a serious concern. Concerns about administering MBUFs were widespread in the qualitative studies. The most common worries centered on distrust of either the technology to be used or the ability of government to administer an MBUF program. Respondents predicted that both factors would cause billing errors. To a lesser extent, study participants also expressed concern about the cost of the program and the logistics associated with billing in-state drivers who drive out-of-state miles or charging out-of-state drivers who drive in the MBUF state. The media stories and qualitative research revealed additional concerns as well, although these were not as widespread as privacy and fairness. One of these concerns focused on the loss of the gas tax as a policy tool to incentivize the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. Another concern was the challenge a household would face in paying the MBUF if it were charged periodically in large amounts (compared with gas taxes, which drivers pay frequently in small amounts). Further, MBUFs with a congestion pricing component were often viewed as unfairly expensive for people with inflexible work hours. Finally, the rela- tive complexity of a mileage fee also emerged as an issue in the media stories and focus groups; if there is going to be an MBUF, people would prefer a simple structure. Woven throughout the discussion of these concerns was a general preference for raising the gas tax instead of implementing an MBUF. Not only did many participants believe that the gas tax still performed adequately, they believed that it avoided many disadvantages of an MBUF, from high administrative costs to privacy concerns to charging hard-to-pay lump sum amounts to preserving cost savings for drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles. People also appreciated the simplicity of a gas tax compared with the complexity of even the most straightforward MBUF system. While the focus groups, media stories, and surveys highlighted a number of concerns in implementing a mileage fee system, potential benefits of an MBUF emerged as well. In particular, the qualitative studies and media stories suggested a few reasons why the public might support transitioning to a mileage-based system. Some people liked that MBUFs could ensure that drivers of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles pay their fair share of road

4 maintenance costs. Further, in the media stories some people described the MBUF system as a possible “solution” to the problem of funding transportation infrastructure into the future and others described MBUFs as a “sustainable” or “innovative” revenue source. When considering the findings described previously, it is important to take two contex- tual factors into account. One is a point raised by the authors of almost all the qualitative studies: members of the public know virtually nothing about current sources of transporta- tion revenue. Most study participants had no idea what fuel tax rates might be or how much Americans pay per year in fuel taxes. Thus, people do not form their opinions about MBUFs with a good understanding of how that revenue option might compare with a fuel tax option. The second contextual point to keep in mind is that, especially in the surveys, respondents are stating their preference regarding a concept they likely do not understand well at all. The MBUF concept is complex, and the survey questionnaires do not provide respondents with a highly detailed explanation of how the MBUF would function. Further, because most people have not experienced an MBUF before, they do not have prior knowledge to help them understand the survey questions about MBUFs. The findings from this synthesis study point to a number of useful avenues for future research, including the following: 1. The specific perceptions of populations of special concern, as defined by federal civil rights regulations and guidance documents, should be the focus of new qualitative and survey research. The groups in question are typically low-income and minority resi- dents. Very little existing research documents MBUF opinions among these groups. 2. New survey research is required to thoroughly explore many issues identified in the qualitative research studies and media stories, such as concerns about privacy and the difficulty people might face in paying large, infrequent MBUF bills. These topics have been studied inadequately in generalizable surveys. 3. Survey and qualitative research is needed to explore how additional factors known to influence support for other transportation revenue options might influence MBUF support. These factors include a respondent’s prior knowledge about existing trans- portation revenue options, educating respondents about current revenue sources and trends, and telling respondents that MBUF revenues would be dedicated to specific types of transportation programs. The results of this study will help policymakers design and explain MBUFs in ways that do not generate unnecessary opposition. 4. Multivariate analysis of survey results is required to better understand how factors such as demographic characteristics, travel behavior, vehicle type owned, and atti- tudes toward public policy issues influence public opinion on MBUFs. Most existing survey research studies present only descriptive statistics or simple, bivariate analy- ses that cannot capture the joint influence of multiple factors on public opinion regard- ing MBUFs. 5. There is a need for a large-sample-size, longitudinal, state or national survey that delves in detail into public opinions about mileage fees. Such a survey would reveal how specific population subgroups (e.g., low-income, minority, rural) perceive MBUFs and would permit thorough exploration of a wide range of topics related to MBUFs. A longitudinal survey would also reveal how public opinion about MBUFs changes in response to changes in the economy, vehicle technology, and transporta- tion funding policy. 6. To help agencies that wish to gather survey data on how the public perceives mileage fees, it would be useful to conduct the research needed to develop a brief guidance

5 document that offers advice on how to design a survey questionnaire, sampling plan, and data analysis plan. 7. Research is needed to identify an appropriate design and management model for an online resource through which all MBUF public opinion research could be made pub- licly available. Future researchers would benefit greatly from having a single location where all surveys and qualitative studies on public opinion of MBUFs are located. 8. More pilot programs would provide valuable survey and qualitative research oppor- tunities. The survey research reviewed in this report shows that participating in an MBUF pilot changes participants’ opinions; additional pilot studies could confirm whether personal exposure to an MBUF increases support. Thus, additional pilot programs would help policymakers better predict how the public would react if an MBUF were implemented. 9. Additional media story analysis is needed for states that have tested MBUFs, such as Oregon and Minnesota. Culling media stories directly from the archives of relevant local periodicals or websites would result in a more thorough collection of relevant media stories than was possible for this study. 10. There is potential value in analyzing social media commentary about mileage fees. This data source, which could prove useful as a complement to other research meth- ods, has not been used to understand public perception of MBUFs.

7 1. What research, including surveys and focus groups, has been conducted to identify U.S. public opinion on MBUFs? 2. What is public opinion about mileage fees? 3. How does public opinion vary according to such fac- tors as geography, respondent demographics, time, and common themes, trends, and factors that influ- ence public acceptance or rejection? 4. What additional research is required to address gaps in the current understanding of public opinion regard- ing MBUFs? This report is intended to be useful for transportation policymakers and planners who are seriously considering the implications of potential major changes in transpor- tation user fees, given the need to establish sustainable transportation funding programs. The synthesis is also intended to be helpful in developing technological and institutional strategies to appropriately deal with pub- lic concerns about a future transition from fuel taxes to MBUFs. OVERVIEW OF STUDY METHODS To answer the research questions, this report analyzes three sources of information on public opinion about mileage fees: qualitative research studies, such as focus groups; quantitative public opinion surveys; and media stories that cover mileage fees. To identify and collect both qualitative research studies and quantitative public opinion surveys, Internet-based pub- lic opinion poll archive databases were searched, including Rasmussen Reports, SurveyUSA, and PollingReport.com. This work was supplemented by using research-oriented online databases (e.g., Google Scholar, Web of Science, and ScienceDirect.com) and general search engines (e.g., Google Web). Information describing each of these resources can be found in Appendix C. Also, researchers were contacted for additional information if their poll or qualitative study was referenced in the text or references section of another report or article. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION STUDY MOTIVATION AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS In recent years, the real value of fuel tax revenues has declined significantly as a result of increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, failure to adjust tax rates to keep up with infla- tion, and fewer miles driven. This decline in the purchasing power of the revenues collected has led to ongoing funding challenges for transportation infrastructure and increased uncertainty about future funding options. The long-term sustainability of motor fuel taxes has come into question in view of increasing fuel efficiency and possible shifts to alter- native fuel vehicles. Interest has grown in the potential of replacing the current fuel tax—assessed at the federal level and in many states as a flat fee per gallon—with a new road usage charge assessed on all miles traveled. This method is often referred to as a mileage-based user fee (MBUF), road usage charge (RUC), vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, or per-mile tax. As of 2015, many states are exploring MBUFs as a possible revenue source. Twenty-six states have taken some proactive measure along these lines, whether starting a small-scale pro- gram (Oregon), designing a pilot (California), conducting a study, or joining the Western Road-Usage Charge Consor- tium or Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (Sloane 2015). Public agencies and academic organizations have pro- duced a small but growing body of public opinion research about MBUFs, reflecting the growing interest in this prom- ising new revenue source. Several pilot demonstrations of MBUF initiatives at the state and local levels have included surveys and other assessments of the responses of the general public—and of the pilot participants themselves. Academic researchers and public interest groups also have conducted public opinion research on the subject. How- ever, a synthesis study was critically needed because the information on public opinion of MBUFs is scattered and time-consuming to find, and a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the full body of research was lacking. In par- ticular, we need to understand how opinions have varied (or not) according to demographic and other characteristics across multiple surveys. To help fill the gaps in knowledge about public opinion of MBUFs, this synthesis study was designed to address the following research questions:

8 An initial list of identified surveys and research studies was distributed to the members and affiliates of TRB’s Con- gestion Pricing Committee and Revenue and Finance Com- mittee in January 2015, with a request that members inform the study team about any surveys or studies that were miss- ing from the list. This request yielded a few items to add to the list. A set of 12 qualitative studies was identified, mostly con- ducted using focus groups. These were analyzed to identify participants’ opinions about 13 themes. The themes fell into the general categories of concerns related to administering MBUFs, concerns about how MBUFs would affect drivers, and other issues. A set of 38 surveys was assembled for analysis. For ques- tions on two themes—general support for an MBUF and support for replacing the gas tax with an MBUF—there was a large enough set of questions and response data to prepare simple, descriptive statistics. These survey questions were analyzed according to criteria of two types: 1. Characteristics of the surveys themselves: geographic scope, survey mode, sampling frame, survey sponsor type, year survey was conducted, and how the MBUF question was framed. 2. Characteristics of the survey respondents: gender, age, income, education, race/ethnicity, and political affiliation. Finally, 359 national media stories from 2010 through 2014 were collected using LexisNexis, ProQuest News- stand, and Google News online databases. Media stories were coded and evaluated with a content analysis process and descriptive statistics. Themes analyzed included geog- raphy, intended audience, tone, and publication type. The stories were also analyzed to determine the prevalence of quotes (by professionals, elected officials, and members of the public) as well as the specific issues discussed (e.g., pri- vacy or fairness). PUTTING MILEAGE-BASED USER FEE PUBLIC OPINION IN CONTEXT: RESEARCH EVIDENCE ON PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR OTHER TRANSPORTATION TAXES AND FEES A fair amount of public opinion research has been conducted about transportation revenue sources other than MBUFs, including gasoline taxes, sales taxes dedicated for transpor- tation, and both flat-rate and congestion-priced tolls. Almost all of this research consists of surveys. A 2008 NCHRP synthesis study looked at public opin- ion surveys related to tolling and other forms of road pric- ing. Zmud and Arce (2008) analyzed the findings from 110 sources, mostly surveys, and concluded with eight summary findings, including that the public prefers tolls to road taxes, wants to see revenues used in specific ways, and tends to become more supportive of the concept of tolling after a tolled facility is introduced into a region. So far, Agrawal and Nixon (2015) have compiled the most comprehensive collection of public opinion research on gaso- line taxes. They compiled data from 108 surveys that asked about support for an increase in the gasoline tax. One key finding was that support is higher than might be predicted if one reads news media reports, which tend to emphasize pub- lic dislike of gas taxes. Among the 108 surveys, 17% found majority support for a gas tax increase and a third reported support at 40% or higher. In their own national survey of pub- lic opinion about transportation taxes and fees, Agrawal and Nixon found that support increases if respondents are told that the new revenues will be spent for a specific type of transpor- tation program or project (e.g., maintenance, safety improve- ments, or environmental improvements), rather than saying that the revenues will be spent on transportation in general. Local and state sales taxes levied to support specific transportation projects or programs have proven to be more acceptable to the public than gas taxes. Agrawal and Nixon (2015) looked at 50 polls assessing support for sales tax increases with revenues dedicated to transportation. They found that about one-third of the polls had majority support for a sales tax with revenue dedicated to transportation pur- poses. More evidence of the relative favorability of sales tax comes from looking at how local ballot propositions have fared. As of 2014, 18 California counties had approved sales tax increases dedicated to providing transportation reve- nues (California Department of Transportation, Division of Transportation Planning, Economic Analysis Branch 2014). Most of these sales taxes received super-majority approval. OVERVIEW OF REPORT CONTENTS Chapter two presents a brief overview of public opinion research methods. Chapter three describes the methods, anal- ysis, and findings of qualitative research data on mileage fees. Chapter four presents the same information for public opinion survey research, and chapter five presents this information for the review of media coverage on mileage fees. Chapter six concludes with a summary of key findings and suggestions for future research into public opinion on mileage fees. The report has four appendices. Appendix A presents detailed information about each survey, including the specific text of all MBUF-related questions; Appendix B presents all MBUF survey questions in table format, with the tables organized by question type; Appendix C provides descriptions of the databases used in searching for polls, surveys, focus group studies, and media content; and Appendix D presents the cod- ing scheme used for the media story analysis.

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 487: Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees explores proposals to replace the current motor fuel tax with a road usage charge assessed on vehicle-miles traveled, often called a mileage-base user fee (MBUF). The report identifies and assesses various measures of public opinion on the MBUF concept.

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