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Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees (2016)

Chapter: CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees

« Previous: CHAPTER TWO Setting the Stage: Overview of Public Opinion Research Methods
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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:"CHAPTER THREE Learning from Qualitative Public Opinion Research on Mileage-Based User Fees." 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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11 CHAPTER THREE LEARNING FROM QUALITATIVE PUBLIC OPINION RESEARCH ON MILEAGE-BASED USER FEES studies that were missing from the list. This request yielded a few items to add to the list. For each of the 12 qualitative studies identified, the researchers were contacted to collect additional informa- tion not available in published documents (e.g., interview guides) if they were willing to share such information. Once the complete set of qualitative studies had been collected, the study team used a combination of deductive and inductive methods to select important themes, and the reports on each study were coded to identify all observations related to each theme. The deductive process involved choosing themes that the team anticipated would be important (e.g., privacy concerns), while the inductive approach involved reading the study reports several times to identify issues that arose across multiple studies. The findings are analyzed and reported for all qualita- tive research participants as a whole, because there were too few examples of any specific subgroup (e.g., rural residents or low-income residents) to draw meaningful conclusions across subsets of participants. DESCRIPTION OF QUALITATIVE STUDIES IDENTIFIED FOR ANALYSIS Twelve qualitative studies were identified that explored perceptions about mileage fees. Table 1 presents summary information about the sponsorship, time frame, geography, and methods used in each study. Nine studies were spon- sored by government agencies, two were academic research studies, and one was sponsored by a nonprofit think tank. Data for more than half the studies have been collected since 2009 or even more recently, although the oldest study’s focus groups were conducted in 1995. Nine of the studies drew their participants from a single state, while three looked regionally. All four U.S. Census regions are represented, though only one study looked at the Northeast. Minnesota, Texas, and Oregon each had two or three studies; California, Wisconsin, Colorado, Massachu- setts, and the District of Columbia each had one. In terms of methodology, the studies were all focus groups, except for one set of interviews and one deliberative This chapter presents an analysis of 12 qualitative research studies that explored mileage fees with members of the pub- lic. The first section describes basic details about the stud- ies, such as the methods used and the geographic locations where they were conducted. The second section presents detailed findings organized into 13 themes. A concluding section summarizes key findings. As noted in chapter two, qualitative studies are used to generate nuanced understanding about public opinions, including allowing exploration of why individuals hold particular views. Because the sample sizes are small (and often nonrandom), one cannot extrapolate the findings to the full population. It is also unwise to place much emphasis on how many times a particular opinion is expressed in a study. The value of a meta-review of qualitative studies is that it identifies the issues people have raised in connection with MBUFs. This information can then be used to establish hypotheses that can be further explored through more gen- eralizable research methods, such as surveys. METHODS FOR FINDING AND ANALYZING QUALITATIVE RESEARCH STUDIES For this report, many search strategies were used to identify and collect surveys and polls for purposes of analysis. Inter- net-based public opinion poll archive databases were searched (e.g., Rasmussen Reports, SurveyUSA, and PollingReport. com) as well as research-oriented online databases (e.g., Google Scholar, Web of Science, and ScienceDirect.com) and general search engines (e.g., Google Web). (Additional information regarding these resources is available in Appen- dix C.) In all the searches, the following key words/phrases (and variations) were used: mileage-based user fee, vehicle miles tax, MBUF, VMT, poll, survey, road usage charge, and public opinion. Finally, individual researchers were contacted for additional information if their poll was referenced in the text or references section of another report or article but not described in detail. A list of identified surveys and research studies was dis- tributed to the members and affiliates of the TRB’s Conges- tion Pricing Committee, Revenue and Finance Committee, and Mileage-Based User Fee Subcommittee, with a request that members inform the study team about any surveys or

12 forum process (a series of half-day events in which partici- pants listened to presentations, took part in group conversa- tions, and answered survey questions). Most of the studies recruited adult participants, though two selected registered voters, one selected licensed drivers, and the interview study worked specifically with low-income adults. Typical of qualitative research, the sample sizes were small, with fewer than 100 participants in all studies except for the deliberative forum project, which included 310 participants. The studies recorded participant views at different levels of detail. Many studies made and analyzed verbatim transcripts, while some relied on less systematic methods, such as recording key discussion points on flip charts during the focus groups. A few of the studies also had respondents complete surveys or writ- ten exercises, and these materials were collected for analysis. The objectives of the studies varied. More than half were focused primarily on eliciting opinions about mileage fees alone. The rest looked at mileage fees in combination with other topics: public knowledge about transportation funding; preferences among various transportation revenue options; public opinion on road pricing in general, with mileage fees as one option alongside others, such as tolling; public opin- ion on a variety of options to reduce congestion; and ques- tions about how transportation costs affect travel choices for low-income people. The way mileage fees were presented to respondents var- ied. Ten of the 12 studies presented a mileage fee as a theo- retical possibility, one sought public opinion about the design of an Oregon pilot project, and the last presented mileage fees for alternative-fuel vehicles as proposed state legislation in Oregon. Along another dimension, seven studies gave a single description of how a mileage fee might work, while the others presented two or three scenarios that might be used for the technology and administrative processes, usu- ally to identify participants’ preferred approach. Two of the 12 studies discussed mileage fees only briefly. The focus groups conducted by MassInc (2015) were sum- marized in just a sentence, and the interview project by Agrawal et al. (2011) touched only peripherally on mileage fees, so the discussion in the report is only a page. Many of the studies (e.g., Baker and Goodin 2011) com- bined focus groups with members of the general public with interviews or other types of interactions with stakeholder representatives. This report analyzes only the results of stud- ies focused on the general public. TABLE 1 SUMMARY OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH STUDIES Study Sponsor or Funder/ (and author, if different) Publication Year Sponsor Type Year Data Collected Method Geography Census Region Sampling Frame Number of Participants Minnesota DOT, Metropoli- tan Council, and FHWA (Strgar et al.) 1995 Government 1995 Focus groups State—MN Midwest Adults Unknown (13 groups) Oregon DOT (Whitty and Imholt) 2005 Government 2004 Focus groups State—OR West Adults 20 (1 group) Minnesota DOT (Dieringer Research Group) 2007 Government 2007 Focus groups State—MN Midwest Adults 84 (10 groups) Minnesota DOT (Dieringer Research Group) 2008 Government 2008 Focus groups State—MN Midwest Adults 60 (9 groups) University Transportation Cen- ter for Mobility (Baker, et al.) 2008 Academic 2008 Focus groups Region— Northeast TX South Adults 14 (2 groups) Mineta Transportation Insti- tute (Agrawal et al.) 2011 Academic 2009 Interviews Local— San Jose, CA West Low-income adults 73 Texas DOT (Baker and Goodin) 2011 Government 2010 Focus groups State—TX South Adults 47 (5 groups) Wisconsin DOT (Nelson and Petchenik) 2012 Government 2012 Focus groups State—WI Midwest Licensed drivers 18+ 26 (4 groups) Oregon DOT (DMH Research) 2013 Government 2013 Focus groups State—OR West Registered voters 45 (6 groups) Colorado DOT (Ungemah et al.) 2013 Government 2013 Focus groups State—CO West Adults 28 (3 groups) National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (Swanson and Hampton) 2013 Government 2011 and 2012 Deliberative forums Local— Washington, DC South Adults 310 (5 forums) MassINC (Koczela and Parr) 2014 Think-tank 2012 Focus groups State—MA Northeast Registered voters 90* (9 groups) *Estimate.

13 Only one study provided a review of previous qualitative research on mileage-based fees. Baker et al. (2008) reviewed four earlier studies that probed perceptions of mileage fees. FINDINGS BY THEME The qualitative study reports were analyzed according to 13 themes. Some themes, such as equity and privacy, were selected deductively: researchers and transportation agency staff know that the public worries about these issues. Other themes were selected inductively because they appeared in multiple studies, suggesting that many people may share these opinions. Table 2 lists the themes and shows which ones were addressed in each study. The set of themes has been grouped into the following broad categories: • Concerns about administering MBUFs • Concerns about how MBUFs will affect drivers • Other issues. Concerns About Administering MBUFs In virtually every study, people worried that an MBUF sys- tem would be impractical to administer. Swanson and Hamp- ton (2013) summed up the general sentiments expressed across all the studies: TABLE 2 THEMES RELATED TO MBUFs, BY QUALITATIVE RESEARCH STUDY Theme (and number of studies discussing it) MN DOT, et al. (Strgar- Rosco- Faush et al.) 1995 OR DOT (Whitty and Imholt) 2005 MN DOT (Dieringer Research Group) 2007 MN DOT (Dieringer Research Group) 2008 University Trans’n Center for Mobility (Baker et al.) 2008 Mineta Trans’n Institute (Agrawal et al.) 2011 Texas DOT (Baker and Goodin) 2011 WI DOT (Nelson and Petchenik) 2012 OR DOT (DMH Research) 2013 CO DOT (Ungemah et al.) 2013 Nat’nal Capital Region Trans’n Planning Board (Swanson and Hampton) 2013 MassInc (Koczela and Parr) 2014 Concerns about administering MBUFs Technology and adminis- trative prob- lems (8) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ Fraud (8) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ High admin- istration costs (8) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ Charging the MBUF on out-of-state miles (5) √ √ √ √ √ Out-of-state vehicles won't pay their share (4) √ √ √ √ Concerns about how MBUFs impact drivers MBUFs invade pri- vacy (11) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ MBUFs are unfair (9) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √ MBUFs elim- inate the incentives/ rewards for purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles (6) √ √ √ √ √ √ Lump-sum MBUF pay- ments are a hardship (5) √ √ √ √ √ Other Benefit: Effi- cient vehicles pay their share (3) √ √ √ Views on MBUF with congestion- pricing (4) √ √ √ √ Want simplic- ity/dislike complexity (7) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ Prefer to raise gas tax instead (8) √ √ √ √ √ √ √ √

14 Many felt that implementation would be costly and bureaucratic—a “nightmare,” according to one participant. And many felt that enforcement would be impossible. . . . The scenario seemed fraught with opportunities for evasion, fraud and poor implementation. (p. 45) Technology and Administrative Problems A central concern was that a system as complex as an MBUF could not accurately collect the fees and that people would therefore be charged incorrectly. The following quote sums up the general sense of unease about an MBUF system’s abil- ity to work correctly, comparing the collection of an MBUF with the process for collecting gas taxes: The thing I don’t like is, say you’re filling up your car. You can see how many gallons you’re putting in and you can see if the tax rate is being billed correctly on the thing. But if you’re being sent a bill at the end of the month, it’s like this unknown. It’s like, how many miles did you really drive and are you going to keep track of that to make sure you can match the two up? I mean how do you put your head around how many miles you’re actually driving a month and are they actually recording it right. (Dieringer Research Group 2008, p. 37) The cause of the mischarging was occasionally expressed as a result of government administrative incompetence, but many respondents worried about the technology itself. A number of respondents explained their distrust in the tech- nology by referencing other government or private sector systems that did not perform as expected. For example, the authors of the earliest study explained, Many people expressed concern that the computer systems required to run the system would not be glitch- free and would cause headaches for the motorist. Several examples of large computer systems failing to live up to expectations were cited, including the Mn/DOT drivers license system, the Minneapolis water billing system, and the Ramsey County Department of Social Services. (Strgar-Rosco-Faush, Inc. et al. 1995, p. 12) In a more recent study, the failures of GPS technology were used to illustrate the fear that an MBUF system would not per- form properly: “A participant in the Brush focus group stated that the GPS device he currently uses got him lost on the way to the focus group session” (Ungemah et al. 2013, pp. 84–85). Despite the many concerns expressed, an occasional respondent had faith in the technology. Baker and Goodin (2011) noted that one participant commented that the infor- mation being gathered is already collected to some extent by cellular operators and used in commercial navigation devices. “It seems like this could be handled by private information providers like AT&T” (p. 45). Fraud A second primary concern related to administration was fraud—that drivers would evade payment. This issue came up in the same number of studies as the technology concerns, but the discussion of fraud tended to be longer and more detailed. People believed that drivers would find ways to tamper with odometers or other onboard mileage-tracking devices. One respondent described an MBUF system as a “hacker’s dream” (Baker et al. 2008, p. 42). Another, reflecting on an odometer-based scheme, asked, “[H]ow many people are going to try to turn back their odometer?” (Nelson and Petchenik 2012, p. 48). Yet another respondent noted, “There are websites devoted to cracking/ hacking anything” (Dieringer Research Group 2007, p. 37). Administration Costs Many people expressed concerns about how much an MBUF program would cost to implement, for both government and drivers. Specific costs mentioned included government employees (salary and benefits), installing and maintaining onboard equipment, the technology and infrastructure used to collect data from drivers and manage the system, and the billing system. Many of these cost concerns came up in the context of comparing MBUF and gas tax collection costs, and people simply did not see the need for the more expensive system. As one participant put it, Because if we start doing this, we start employing a bunch of new people, private companies, government, etc. You still have to pay their retirement, their health insurance, so how much is that really going to cost you? Just jack it up at the pump is the way I see it. (Dieringer Research Group 2007, p. 24) Concern About Drivers Paying for Out-of-State Travel In five of the studies, participants discussed the fact that they were worried about being charged for out-of-state miles they might travel. Although this theme did not come up in the majority of studies, the authors of the DHM Research study in Oregon pointed out that although participants did not vol- unteer concern about this issue, “once brought up in discus- sion, it was desirable to many and mattered a lot to some people” (DHM Research 2013, p. 14). Although the various studies all proposed an MBUF as a statewide or regional initiative, one respondent saw the potential for added complications if the system were repli- cated on a larger scale, asking, “How would it handle multi- state travel? If I go on a trip, and I’m going to the West Coast, and you’re keeping track of every road I’m on, am I going to get a bill from every state? Or is this going to be a national system?” (Dieringer Research Group 2008, p. 34). Concern About How to Charge Out-of-State Vehicles Contrary to concerns about unfairly charging a state MBUF for miles driven outside the state, in four studies, partici-

15 pants voiced a concern that out-of-state drivers would escape paying the fee. In a study focused on Colorado, a state with a major tourist industry, the authors said, A final criticism that was levied against the GPS-based system in all three sessions was that the system would not capture revenue from drivers from outside Colorado. Participants did not believe that it was fair for Colorado drivers to solely bear the burden for infrastructure development, particularly given the state’s popularity among tourists. (Ungemah et al. 2013, p. 85) Concerns About How MBUFs Affect Drivers MBUFs Invade Privacy The theme of privacy was discussed in virtually all the stud- ies, and a number of the summary reports highlighted pri- vacy concerns as one of the participants’ key objections to MBUFs. MBUF schemes that relied solely on an odometer check did not generate undue concern, but MBUF systems described as using any technology that collected data on the location or time of travel alarmed many participants, even if they were explicitly told that drivers’ travel details would not be transmitted off their own vehicles. People worried about being “tracked,” and many stud- ies quoted participants using the term “Big Brother.” One fear was that the government or firm collecting the mileage would use the location data, even if they were not supposed to. Specific fears were that the police would use the travel data or that the information would be sold if a private firm was used to administer the MBUF. Some people worried that the data would not be secured and could be stolen. Oth- ers talked about a “slippery slope” scenario in which the government would initially promise not to track vehicles but would later change the policy to permit tracking. One person explained these concerns as follows: They will try to make it anonymous, but it won’t be. You start to set the precedent on tracking your car. The next thing you know, your insurance company says if you want insurance we are going to add that device, and now we’re going to start tracking other aspects of you. I think it feels too Big Brother-ly. (Dieringer Research Group 2007, p. 39) And another person said, Vehicle miles traveled: it’s more Big Brother. The cable boxes now know what channels you’re watching and when you’re watching. You call them and they’re, “I see you’re watching channel 5 now.” Ridiculous. (Nelson and Petchenik 2012, p. 47) All this said, a few participants were explicitly uncon- cerned about the privacy issue when it came up in the discus- sions. For example, Baker and Goodin (2011, p. 44) quoted one participant who said, “Privacy is not an issue. We have credit cards and use the Internet.” and another, an OnStar user, who pointed out, “My car already tracks me.” MBUFs Are Unfair The question of fairness, which appeared in most of the stud- ies, threaded through the conversations about many other themes discussed here. Most of the discussions reflected on fairness by comparing these fees with the gas tax. Although a majority of people thought the MBUF was less fair than gas taxes, the opinion was not at all unanimous. Also, sev- eral study authors in their analysis concluded that fairness was a secondary concern for participants rather than a pri- mary one. Swanson and Hampton (2013) concluded, “Par- ticipants said that fairness mattered, but it does not appear these concerns were pivotal in determining levels of support for different congestion pricing scenarios” (p. 8). People who were concerned about fairness discussed the issue primarily in terms of different classes of vehicles and drivers: Would the switch from gas taxes to MBUFs be more or less fair for particular groups? The most common of these concerns centered on the relative cost impacts for different vehicle types. People worried that switching from a gas tax to a flat-rate MBUF would be unfair to people who drove more fuel-efficient vehicles, because they would pay com- paratively more in MBUFs and those who drove less fuel- efficient vehicles would pay comparatively less. Similar concerns were expressed about the fact that the fee would be the same for lighter and heavier vehicles, even though people believed that lighter vehicles caused less road damage. In studies that discussed the option of an MBUF scheme that charged different rates for different vehicle types, people responded positively, saying that such a scheme was fairer. One participant said this about a variable- rate MBUF: I love the idea . . . . It is very user-based, with those utilizing the highways to a greater extent paying a greater amount. Also, with the size or weight of the vehicle being factored in, these vehicles that cause more destruction to highways are paying for it. (Dieringer Research Group 2007, p. 36) Concerns about different vehicle types were not the only fairness issues discussed. One person worried that driv- ers would unfairly evade the tax just as many people evade vehicle inspection and registration requirements. Also, a couple people worried that the scheme might raise costs for personal travel and lower costs for business travel, to the benefit of businesses. Other studies reported some concern expressed about whether the shift to MBUFs would be unfair to rural drivers compared with urban ones, or to low-income drivers, or to people who drive long distances for work, such as truckers. In considering the fairness concerns expressed about how an MBUF would affect people who drive long dis-

16 tances, Baker and Goodin (2011, p. 39) point out that people might not fully understand that drivers are already paying a fuel tax that falls more heavily on people who drive long distances and is regressive in the same way as an MBUF. The studies that presented a congestion-priced version of an MBUF elicited additional discussion about fairness. Some people worried that drivers who could not change their schedules to avoid the peak hours would end up paying an unreasonably high amount. Finally, it is important to note that although fairness concerns about MBUFs were prominent in the research, they were not universal. Some study participants believed that MBUFs did not raise fairness concerns, while others believed that the MBUF was fair because everyone who uses the system would be paying, including those driving vehicles that currently pay no or very little fuel tax. One participant stated that the MBUF system was fair enough, given that no system is perfectly fair to everyone: “If I drive, I should pay. We can’t say that everything we have is fair or equitable, we’re just used to it to some degree” (Fichtner and Riggle- man 2008, p. 37). Ungemah et al. noted that participants in one of their focus groups believed that an MBUF would actually be fairer than the current system (p. 81). MBUFs Eliminate the Incentives/Rewards for Purchasing Fuel-Efficient Vehicles For many participants, a clear benefit of switching from a gas tax to an MBUF was the fact that drivers of every vehicle would contribute to road costs, including drivers of electric and fuel-efficient vehicles. However, even more commonly expressed was a concern that switching to an MBUF would remove an important financial reward for drivers who have chosen an efficient vehicle, whether electric, hybrid, or sim- ply an internal-combustion vehicle with good fuel efficiency. Strgar-Rosco-Faush, Inc. et al., the authors of the earliest study, summed up the issue as follows: All of the focus groups discussed the inequity of the gas tax related to fuel efficiency. But everyone who commented on this felt it was a good thing to reward those who choose more fuel-efficient vehicles. The mileage-based tax was seen as a “step backward” in the government’s stated policy of promoting fuel efficiency. (1995, p. 13) The authors of a recent study (DHM Research 2013) noted that this issue raised emotions among participants. They illustrated the point with the following quote: “This penalizes vehicle owners who have reduced fuel consumption because of their values or desire to economize,” said a Roseburg woman. “People who choose to drive low-fuel-mileage vehicles are free to do so, but they should pay accordingly. They not only waste fuel but contribute much more air pollution.” (p. 11) Lump-Sum Payments Are a Hardship In five studies, participants expressed concern about pay- ing infrequent but large MBUF bills rather than the gas tax, which is charged in small, frequent increments at the time of gas purchase. Participants believed that many people would find it challenging to budget for larger, less-frequent pay- ments. As Swanson and Hampton (2013) described the issue, participants “were concerned about the burden of ‘another unknown bill at the end of the month.’ It seemed to represent one more hassle in lives that are already too difficult” (p. 45). This theme often came up in the context of discussing various MBUF administrative structures, comparing pay-at- the-pump options and other variations with a billing struc- ture. One participant explained, “The thing is that everybody in this country is a bad saver of money” and expressed a preference for an MBUF system designed so that “at the end of the year all of a sudden we don’t get this huge bill and we don’t have the money to pay it” (DHM Research 2013, p. 14). Several other people agreed that they would prefer frequent billing to annual billing, or even a pay-at-the pump option. One explained, “I would rather pay the fee at the gas pump because individuals who are not budgeting can’t afford this. The way it is now, you drive whenever you can afford to” (Baker and Goodin 2011, p. 46). Other Issues One Perceived MBUF Benefit: Electric and High-Mileage Vehicles Pay Their Share of Road Costs Although many participants disliked the idea that fuel- efficient vehicles would pay more under an MBUF system than with the gas tax, this same point was also the one and only benefit that some participants saw in mileage fees. The discussion relates to the fairness issue, but because it is the single benefit mentioned by people across different studies, it is important to highlight the finding separately from the fairness discussion. A subset of the research participants believed it would be appropriate—or fair—to collect revenue from all driv- ers, including those who drive fuel-efficient vehicles. This point was raised in three studies. Baker and Goodin (2011) explained that their focus groups contained a good number of participants who— . . . believed all cars should pay for use of the roadway network (outside of fixed fees such as registration fees), stating: • “But they are using our roads. They should pay what we are paying.” • “Every car puts wear and tear on the road, and they [electric vehicles] should be paying for roads somehow.” (p. 38)

17 Similarly, the DHM study authors concluded, Support for a fee on miles came from those who understood the impact on roads and transportation revenue of high-mileage vehicles and wanted to correct for it. “It helps everyone pay their fair share,” said a Roseburg participant. A Bend resident said, “If you have an all-electric vehicle right now, you’re not paying a gas tax. You’re driving on the roads, and maybe you have studs, or maybe you’re just driving a lot on the roads. You’re creating wear and tear, and you’re not funding that through a gas tax.” (DHM Research 2013, p. 11) Views Related to Mileage Fees with a Congestion Pricing Component In four of the studies, respondents discussed an MBUF con- cept that included congestion pricing. In all cases the authors concluded that this was an unpopular MBUF option, at least for most participants. The issue discussed at most length (and in every study) was the belief that congestion pricing is unfair to people whose jobs require them to commute during peak hours. As one respondent put it, I think the congestion part of it would be grossly unfair. A lot of people have to go to and from work at the same time every day, so they have to drive during congested hours. People who are tied into a job and forced to drive during rush hours—I think it would unfairly cut against them. (Dieringer 2008, p. 36) Desire for Simplicity, Dislike of Complexity More than half the study authors concluded that their par- ticipants preferred simplicity and disliked complexity with respect to road-use charges. Reasons for preferring simplic- ity varied. One point raised numerous times was that a more complex administrative system would be more expensive to operate. Other people stressed that they wanted a system that drivers themselves would find simple to understand. Swan- son and Hampton (2013) explained this view in their discus- sion of how people reacted to a GPS-based MBUF system: Visualizing the scenario seemed to make some participants feel weary and overwhelmed. Personal trip planning would be difficult (“You can’t research the price of every road before you drive it”) and. . . [people wanted to] reduce the hassle of paying attention to additional costs. (p. 45) Prefer Increasing the Gas Tax to Implementing an MBUF Woven throughout the discussions of most of the themes was a recurring preference for raising the gas tax instead of implementing an MBUF. Not only did many participants feel that the gas tax still performed adequately but 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 a cost savings for drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles. The gas tax felt simple compared with the complexity of even the most straightfor- ward MBUF system. The view that there was simply no significant benefit to swapping out the gas tax for an MBUF held true even in the many studies in which participants were explicitly edu- cated about the falling productivity of gas tax revenues as a result of inflation and the growing number of high-mileage and electric vehicles paying little or no gas tax. Baker and Goodin (2011), whose study included such an educational component, commented, While participants saw potential value in the system in terms of halting the decline in the fuel tax’s purchasing power, many simply felt that such a system was unnecessary. As one participant stated, “You’re reinventing the wheel. Why introduce a huge bureaucratic element to this?” (p. 41) Other reasons that one or more studies found people pre- fer the gas tax are— • They prefer a simple system. • They prefer a familiar system (Baker et al. 2008, p. 43). • The gas tax is “invisible” to people, which makes it less objectionable than a very visible MBUF (DHM Research 2013, p. 5). • People do not believe gas prices will go down if the gas tax is removed (Swanson and Hampton 2013, p. 45). INTERPRETING THE FINDINGS IN CONTEXT: RESPONDENTS DO NOT UNDERSTAND CURRENT SOURCES OF TRANSPORTATION REVENUE In considering these discussions, it is important to take into account a contextual factor raised by the authors of most of the studies: most people know virtually nothing about the current system of transportation finance. In three-quarters of the studies, the researchers explored whether or not respondents knew anything about current sources of trans- portation revenues or the factors that have led to falling gas tax revenues. Across the studies, the researchers found that most respondents had almost no knowledge of the subject. People believed that they paid far more in transportation- related taxes than they actually do, and they were unaware of even the basic details of the gas tax, such as the actual per-gallon state or federal tax rates they paid or how much they might pay per year in fuel taxes. One result of this lack of understanding about the gas tax is that MBUFs felt like a “new” or additional fee to respondents, even though they might not necessarily pay more under an MBUF scheme than they do under their cur- rent state gas tax. As one respondent explained, “The gas tax really, to your daily driver, is invisible. You go to the gas pump. It’s there. It is completely invisible, so in a way,

18 we don’t feel like we are paying a tax” (DHM Research 2013, p. 10). In only one study (Swanson and Hampton 2013) did the researchers test public opinion both before and after edu- cating respondents about the current gas tax rate and the reasons for declining transportation revenues. This study, which reported on a series of lengthy deliberative forums that included presentations and facilitated small-group dis- cussions, found that opposition to an MBUF grew over the course of the forums, while support for raising the gas tax rate rose. SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS This chapter analyzed 12 qualitative studies that explored perceptions about mileage fees, 10 of which investigated the topic in great detail. Nine studies were sponsored by govern- ment agencies, two were academic research studies, and one was sponsored by a nonprofit think tank. Data for more than half the studies were collected fairly recently, since 2009, although the oldest study’s focus groups were conducted in 1995. Looking geographically, nine of the studies drew their participants from across a single state, while three looked regionally. All four U.S. Census regions are represented. In terms of methodology, the studies were all focus groups, except for one set of interviews and one deliberative forum process. Typical of qualitative research, the sample sizes were usually small. The objectives of the studies varied somewhat. More than half focused primarily on eliciting opinions about MBUFs alone, while the others looked at MBUFs in combination with other topics related to transportation taxes and fees. MBUFs were presented to respondents in various ways. Ten of the 12 studies presented an MBUF as a theoretical possibility, one sought public opinion about the design of an Oregon pilot project, and one presented mileage fees for alternative- fuel vehicles as proposed state legislation in Oregon. More than half of the studies offered a single description of how an MBUF might work, while the others presented two or three scenarios for the technology and administrative pro- cesses that would be used, usually to identify participants’ preferred approach. Analytic review of the qualitative studies revealed 13 key themes that appear across multiple studies. These themes fall into three categories: (1) concerns about administering MBUFs, (2) concerns about how MBUFs affect drivers, and (3) other issues. The thematic analysis discusses all the stud- ies as a whole. Because of the very small number of studies, it was not meaningful to compare findings for studies of dif- ferent types (e.g., studies designed to test relative preference for different MBUF designs versus studies that asked about only one type of MBUF). Concerns about administering MBUFs were widespread and most commonly centered on distrust of either the tech- nology to be used or the ability of government to administer an MBUF program; both factors were seen as likely to cre- ate billing errors. Another central focus of the discussions was a presumption that administering an MBUF program would be very expensive for government and for drivers (if the latter had to install and maintain on-vehicle equipment). Somewhat less frequently, people brought up the issues of charging a state MBUF on out-of-state miles and charging out-of-state drivers for their travel in the MBUF state. Four primary concerns arose about how MBUFs would affect drivers. The issue of privacy came up in virtually every study, and study authors often commented that this was one of the biggest concerns. Again and again in these discus- sions, participants referred to “Big Brother” or “tracking.” Fairness issues arose almost as often as privacy concerns, although some study authors suggested that these were less pressing. Fairness was discussed in various ways, including the likelihood that some people would evade the MBUF and the fact that an MBUF would charge the same rate to drivers of fuel-efficient and fuel-inefficient vehicles. A third, related concern was that replacing the gas tax with an MBUF would cause the government to lose a policy tool that incentivizes people to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. Finally, partici- pants worried that drivers would have a hard time paying periodic MBUF charges, compared with the relative ease of paying the gas tax in smaller, frequent increments. A handful of other themes popped up frequently as well. One was the sole perceived benefit to MBUFs that was men- tioned several times: the belief that it would be fair to charge electric vehicles and fuel-efficient vehicles for their road use. Several studies explored MBUFs with a congestion pricing component, and participants objected on the grounds that these would be unfair to people who could not adjust their work hours to avoid rush hour. Two other related themes were that respondents wanted a simple road-charging sys- tem rather than a complex one and that they saw no compel- ling reason to replace the gas tax with an MBUF. In fact, throughout the discussion of virtually every theme, partici- pants compared MBUFs with gas taxes and found the latter generally more appealing. Finally, the authors of most of the studies emphasized that when people responded to the MBUF concept, many did so without any clear understanding of the current structure of fuel taxes used to raise transportation revenues. Most study participants did not have any idea what fuel tax rates were or how much people pay per year in fuel taxes.

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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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