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Public Perception of Mileage-Based User Fees (2016)

Chapter: CHAPTER FIVE Learning From Media Coverage

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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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 FIVE Learning From Media Coverage." 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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30 CHAPTER FIVE LEARNING FROM MEDIA COVERAGE Because news media coverage of MBUFs is a primary factor in shaping public opinion, this chapter presents an analysis of how MBUFs were presented in the news media over the five years from 2010 through 2014. A total of 359 media stories from national newspaper articles, online business journals, online industry blogs, magazines, and technology blogs were collected and then evaluated using a content analysis process. Media stories were evaluated by type (i.e., intended audience), geography (i.e., Census region), and publication coverage (i.e., tone of publication as well as types of citations included). In addition, media stories were analyzed in terms of the subjects discussed (i.e., perceived concerns, benefits, and issues raised). The first section of the chapter discusses the methods used to collect and analyze relevant media stories. The following sections evaluate the stories by source (intended audience), overall tone toward MBUFs, and types of speakers quoted. Then, the chapter discusses the concerns and perceived ben- efits of MBUFs presented in the media stories, as well as other issues raised that do not fit into any of the major cat- egories. A concluding section summarizes the key findings from the analysis. METHODS FOR FINDING AND ANALYZING MEDIA STORIES Search Methods U.S. news media stories from 2010 to 2014 that covered MBUFs were primarily identified through searches in both the LexisNexis and ProQuest Newsstand digital archive data- bases. As discussed in Appendix C, LexisNexis archives text and media sources from national and international newspa- pers, magazines, trade journals, broadcast transcripts, medi- cal news, and industry and market news. Similarly, ProQuest Newsstand includes domestic and international media content from newspapers, wire feeds, blogs, podcasts, and websites. In addition to these databases, Google News was used to collect materials for the year 2014. Google News is a com- puter-generated news media database that aggregates digital global news headlines and provides a link to the correspond- ing online media source. Google News archives are limited to 1 year; thus, only news stories for the year 2014 could be collected this way. To find all relevant media stories without including too many irrelevant ones, a version of the following very broad search term was used in all three databases: mileage-based user fees OR mileage-based user charge OR mileage-based user tax OR MBUF OR vehicle miles traveled fee OR vehicle miles traveled tax OR road user fee OR road user charge OR road user tax OR mileage- based OR VMT fee OR VMT tax The actual search term included truncation and Boolean search terms (such as “mile! us! fees”) to capture all terms related to the root of the words searched. To maintain con- sistency across years, this same search term was copied and pasted into the search engines so that the terms, as well as the order of the terms, would be identical for each year. Searches in the three databases generated 753 stories. Each story was initially read to determine its relevance to the proj- ect. Ultimately, 394 stories were determined to be irrelevant because they were not actually about mileage-based user fees or were exact duplicates of other articles in the data set. This cull- ing process left a sample of 359 unique media stories relevant to the project; these make up the final data set used for analysis. It should be noted that using digital newspaper archive databases to search for articles provides a large but incom- plete set of all media stories on a topic (Weaver and Bimber 2008). This limitation occurs partly because newspaper database archives such as LexisNexis often exclude certain types of material, including stories produced by wire ser- vices such as the Associated Press and letters to the editor. In addition, news archive databases exclude many Internet- based news sources that are widely read by the public, such as blogs and online magazines (Weaver and Bimber 2008). Coding Methods The authors used a combination of deductive and inductive analysis methods to arrive at a final set of 27 themes and related codes used to analyze the media stories. The deduc- tive phase involved selecting themes and codes based on topics that the qualitative research studies indicated might be important, such as privacy and administration concerns. In an additional inductive coding process, the media stories were read quickly to identify additional issues discussed fre- quently enough to be worth thematic coding and analysis.

31 The final coding scheme used for analysis is presented in Appendix D. Codes were grouped into six main categories: 1. Codes to summarize the entire story, including publi- cation type, geographic coverage, the type of MBUF program discussed (pilot program or hypothetical future program), and story type (opinion piece or news story). 2. Codes focused on the overall tone the story takes toward MBUFs. 3. Codes for the type of speakers whose views are pre- sented in the story, including professionals, elected officials, and the general public. 4. Codes for concerns about MBUFs, such as privacy, fairness, administration, technology, and cost. 5. Codes for benefits of MBUFs, such as sustainable revenue source, innovative approach, or other types of benefits. 6. Codes for other issues discussed in the story related to MBUFs, including gas tax replacement, fuel effi- ciency, alternative vehicles, and congestion pricing. After defining the codes, the study team used select media stories to test intercoder reliability before proceeding with the coding process. To test intercoder reliability, two or more researchers independently coded the same content using the coding scheme, including theme and code definitions. The coded content from each researcher was then reviewed to determine the extent to which the researchers had selected the same codes for the same content. After minor adjust- ments to the coding scheme, the media stories were carefully coded according to the 30 codes shown in Appendix D. The final content analysis process consisted of both a qualitative review of the material coded and a quantitative analysis of coded articles using descriptive statistics. NUMBER OF STORIES, TYPES OF MEDIA SOURCES, AND MILEAGE-BASED USER FEE PROGRAMS DISCUSSED A total of 359 media stories were analyzed. The number of relevant media stories per year that were identified for analysis increased over the years (Table 10), suggesting that coverage of the MBUF issue has gradually expanded. This trend was reflected in the nationally oriented papers but not in papers with readership specific to a Census region. (How- ever, readers reviewing these statistics should keep in mind that the data set of news sources reviewed is not a perfect universe of all existing sources, as explained earlier.) In terms of geography, the news media coverage repre- sented the different regions across the United States fairly well, with many media stories coming from nationally read news media such as the New York Times (33%). Across all years, the Midwest, Northeast, South, and West Census TABLE 10 SUMMARY STATISTICS ABOUT THE MEDIA STORY PUBLISHERS, BY YEAR Media Story Category 2010 (%) 2011 (%) 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) All Years (%) Number of stories 35 46 53 85 140 359 Geography of readership National 20 11 21 38 46 33 Midwest 9 15 30 16 11 16 Northeast 37 35 17 12 6 16 South 17 7 11 20 8 12 West 17 33 21 14 29 23 Publication type General public 77 85 83 88 80 83 Industry 23 15 17 12 20 17 MBUF type Pilot 0 7 2 0 1 1 Hypothetical 80 76 74 81 75 77 Proposed 6 4 15 2 9 7 Multiple types 14 13 9 16 16 14 Story type News story 91 80 75 85 90 86 Opinion piece 9 20 25 15 10 14

32 regions represented the origin of 16%, 16%, 12%, and 23% of media stories, respectively. As illustrated in Table 10, there is some variation in representation by regions from year to year. The publication type in which each media story appeared was coded by likely readership, either “industry” or “general public.” The source was coded “industry” if readers presum- ably were reading it for work purposes (e.g., policymakers, transportation infrastructure engineers, or technology pro- fessionals). For example, a story published in The Bond Buyer (a news organization that focuses on public finance) would be coded as an industry story. However, if a story appeared in local, state, or national newspapers, magazines, or online blogs intended for a general audience, it was coded as general public. Examples of publications coded general public are the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal. The majority of media stories appeared in publications geared toward a general audience (83%) rather than professionals (17%). As seen in Table 10, these proportions generally held across years. The stories were also coded according to whether they dis- cussed the MBUF as a hypothetical option (i.e., a future fund- ing possibility rather than a current policy proposal), a pilot program, an actual policy proposal, or some combination of these. Most of the stories by far (77%) covered hypothetical MBUFs. Proposed MBUF systems (e.g., Oregon’s Road Usage Charge Program) were discussed in just 7% of all stories. Sto- ries that commented on pilot projects without addressing a hypothetical future MBUF were rare (only 1%). Finally, 14% of articles discussed multiple types of MBUFs (pilot programs, hypothetical scenarios, and/or proposed systems). The stories were then coded as either general news sto- ries or opinion pieces. Fourteen percent of all stories were editorials, opinion pieces, or letters to the editor. To deter- mine whether opinion pieces might have different content than news stories, descriptive statistics evaluating the preva- lence of each code across years for all of the media stories collected were compared with statistics for news stories only. The descriptive statistics for these two groups yielded similar results. Differences were typically within 1 percent- age point, and no difference was greater than 5 percentage points. Therefore, the analysis in the following sections includes all stories together, rather than comparing findings for opinion-based pieces and news stories. TONE OF MILEAGE-BASED USER FEE COVERAGE Another aspect of the coding looked at the overall tone each story took toward MBUFs. The categories used to code stories were “positive,” “negative,” “mixed,” or “neu- tral.” A story was coded positive if the author focused on the beneficial outcomes or possibilities of an MBUF, if the author framed the MBUF as a solution or innovative option for funding transportation infrastructure, or if the author recommended implementing or considering an MBUF. A story was coded negative if the author focused on the nega- tive outcomes or consequences of an MBUF, if the author framed the MBUF as inadequately addressing transporta- tion finance, or if the author explicitly took a stand against an MBUF. A story was coded mixed if it included both posi- tive and negative content. Finally, if the author discussed the MBUF without much detail (positive or negative) or without a clearly positive or negative tone, the story was coded neutral. Table 11 presents an analysis of the overall tone used to discuss mileage fees. When all stories from all years are combined, the largest percentage of the stories was neutral in tone (39%), and over a quarter (29%) had a mixed tone. Among stories with a clear tone, positive stories were slightly more common (18% of all stories) than negative ones (13%). TABLE 11 OVERALL TONE OF MEDIA STORIES TOWARD MBUFs, BY YEAR Media Story Tone 2010 (%) 2011 (%) 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) All Years (%) Mixed 23 30 28 27 32 29 Negative 9 30 13 12 9 13 Neutral 63 26 45 46 31 39 Positive 6 13 13 15 27 18 Looking at how overall article tone changed over time shows that the percentage of positive media stories noticeably increased, from 6% in 2010 to 27% in 2014. Similarly, the proportion of negative media stories fell between 2011 (30%) and 2014 (9%). The percentage of media stories categorized as neutral or mixed remained fairly constant across years. Story tone by geography was also evaluated (Table 12). The percentages of mixed, neutral, positive, and negative tone stories for national, Northeastern, Midwestern, and Southern stories are similar, but the West is an outlier. Higher proportions of stories from the Western Census region took a positive tone (36%), while fewer took a neu- tral tone (21%). TABLE 12 OVERALL TONE MEDIA STORIES TOOK TOWARD MBUFs, BY GEOGRAPHY Media Story Tone National (%) Midwest (%) Northeast (%) South (%) West (%) All Regions (%) Mixed 30 34 23 28 30 29 Negative 13 13 18 9 13 13 Neutral 43 41 49 49 21 39 Positive 14 13 11 14 36 18

33 TYPES OF PEOPLE QUOTED IN MEDIA STORIES The next step in the analysis process looked at the types of people whose opinions were presented in the media stories. Each story was analyzed to identify whether three types of people were quoted: professionals in the field of transporta- tion, politicians, and members of the general public. Stories were also coded according to whether they described pub- lic opinion as opposed to quoting a member of the public. Tables 13 and 14 show the percentage of stories that included quotes by each type of person or described public opinion, by year and by geography. TABLE 13 PERCENTAGE OF STORIES INCLUDING THE VIEWS OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE OR DESCRIBING PUBLIC OPINION, BY YEAR Media Story Code 2010 (%) 2011 (%) 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) All Years (%) Professional quoted 43 43 36 41 33 38 Elected official quoted 34 22 9 18 21 20 General public quoted 0 7 6 6 4 5 Public opinion described 17 26 8 6 6 10 TABLE 14 PERCENTAGE OF STORIES INCLUDING THE VIEWS OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE OR DESCRIBING PUBLIC OPINION, BY GEOGRAPHY Media Story Code National (%) Midwest (%) Northeast (%) South (%) West (%) Professional quoted 34 12 16 13 25 Elected official quoted 29 18 19 43 84 General public quoted 29 18 0 6 47 Public opinion described 25 17 19 8 31 Note: This table presents a breakdown by geography for only those stories coded as quoting each speaker type. Professionals If a media story included a quote from a professional in the field—such as a transportation planner, academic researcher, or transportation business representative—the story was coded under “professional.” Often professionals discussed the problem of relying on gasoline taxes, particularly to explain how increased fuel efficiency reduces gas tax revenues, or else professionals were quoted as recommending MBUFs as an eventual replacement of the gas tax. For example, the Pittsburgh Tribune quoted Bob Poole, director of transpor- tation policy at the Reason Foundation, as saying, “The gas tax is clearly on its last legs. . . . The country is going to be shifting from per-gallon gas taxes to mileage-based user fees” (Pittsburgh Tribune Review 2013). Similarly, in reference to MBUFs, James Whitty with the Oregon Department of Trans- portation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding stated in a US Official News story: Our vision is to create a reliable, easy-to-use, low-cost, enforceable, and publicly acceptable open system that replaces the fuel tax. A charge based on measured road use preserves fairness and accountability in supporting the state’s system of roads and highways. (US Official News May 2014) Professionals were also quoted discussing issues related to fairness, privacy, administration, and technology. As an example from the Daily News, Barry Schoch, president of the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association, said, “We have to go to a mileage-based system. It’s the only fair way” (Snyder 2010). In a MidWest Energy News story, How- ard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, expressed his opinion in favor of a gaso- line tax over a vehicle mileage tax: “A VMT is delinked from pollution. There’s a saying—if the wheel ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (Lydersen 2014). Professionals also described details of pilot projects and programs they were managing. Overall, quoting a professional’s opinion about MBUFs was fairly common; over a third (38%) of media stories included a quote from a professional in the field. There was little variation across years. By geography, of the stories with comments from professionals, the Western (25%) and national (34%) sources most often quoted professionals. Elected Officials Typically, elected officials were cited explaining their per- sonal support or opposition for MBUFs, or listing mileage fees as one transportation revenue option among many under consideration. Officials often expressed concerns related to privacy and fairness. For example, in The News-Item, Rep- resentative Matt Baker (R-Pa.) opposed an MBUF, saying, “I think it’s unfair to rural areas” (The News-Item 2010). Other officials, however, expressed a willingness to consider the mileage tax. For example, in the Daily Press, Delegate Joe T. May (R-Loudon, Va.) stated, “I think a mileage-based revenue source is the direction of the future. We have to go that direction, we have little other choice” (Cawley 2011). Elected officials also discussed other issues related to the MBUF system, such as administration and technology. Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, was quoted in the National Journals saying (in reference to MBUFs), “The technology works. It only costs a couple mil- lion bucks to go out and test the technology. If we get four or five states, we can fine tune it” (Johnson 2014). Politicians were cited less frequently than profession- als; only 20% of media stories included a quotation by

34 at least one elected official. There was some variation in how often politicians were cited across the years but no clear trend. Looking at geography, national media sources (29%) and Western sources (26%) quoted elected offi- cials more than those from the Northeast (19%), Midwest (18%), or South (7%). General Public The stories quoting members of the public presented their opinions on the issues of privacy, equity, cost, or replac- ing the gasoline tax with an MBUF. For a US Official News (October 2013) story, for example, Danny James responded to the idea of a black box tracking miles by saying, “I don’t like it. I think it’s too intrusive.” On the matter of cost, Yel- low Checker Cab driver Kevin Spencer expressed his con- cern in the Contra Costa Times after hearing that a VMT tax could cost up to 10 cents per mile. He said, Are you kidding me? It’s ludicrous. Some of the families, blue-collar people just trying to make a living, could have to decide whether to pay their mortgage or drive. (Rosenberg 2012) Other people were quoted discussing fairness. For exam- ple, in the Register Guard (2014), Carleen Reilly described the MBUF system as being more equitable, stating, “We cer- tainly live on a limited income, but do believe we need to pay our fair share to keep the roads up. We are not stingy.” Along the same lines, after Jesus Velez was told that alternative and fuel-efficient vehicle owners pay less in gas taxes, he told a Los Angeles Times reporter that the mileage-fee system would “make it fairer for everyone” (Weikel 2014). While professionals and elected officials were often cited in the media stories, the views and opinions of mem- bers of the general public were not well represented. Only 5% of all media stories contained at least one quote from the general public. This pattern held across all years. By geography, sources from the Midwest and South had the lowest percentage of stories quoting the public (17% and 8%, respectively). Discussion of Public Opinion About MBUFs To further explore how the media stories covered pub- lic opinion, each story was coded for whether or not it described public opinion about MBUFs. This analysis shows that media stories do not commonly discuss the general public; only 10% of stories mentioned opinions of the general public. The percentage of media stories that included discussions of public opinion was consistently low across the 5 years, although it was somewhat higher in 2010 and 2011. Looking by geography, however, among those stories discussing public opinion, the national and Western news media represented the greatest share of such stories. CONCERNS ABOUT MILEAGE-BASED USER FEES Table 15 summarizes the frequency with which specific MBUF concerns were raised in media stories, by year. Table 16 shows the percentage of stories discussing each topic, broken down by the geography of the media source. Five primary areas of concern were identified: privacy, fairness, administration, technology, and cost. TABLE 15 CONCERNS ABOUT MBUFs RAISED IN MEDIA STORIES, BY YEAR Media Story Code 2010 (%) 2011 (%) 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) All Years (%) Privacy 49 46 55 46 51 50 Fairness 37 17 28 25 35 30 Administration 14 33 15 9 6 12 Technology 17 20 8 16 4 11 Cost 6 4 8 5 4 5 TABLE 16 CONCERNS ABOUT MBUFs RAISED IN MEDIA STORIES, BY GEOGRAPHY Media Story Code National (%) Midwest (%) Northeast (%) South (%) West (%) Privacy 35 14 13 13 24 Fairness 38 11 13 11 26 Administration 18 27 11 16 27 Technology 38 21 18 10 13 Cost 17 11 11 17 44 Note: this table presents a breakdown by geography for only those stories coded for each concern. Privacy As with the findings from the qualitative studies, privacy emerged as a prominent theme in the news media cover- age. Half of all media stories discussed privacy. Within the broader theme of privacy, four subthemes were identified: 1. General concern: privacy is explicitly mentioned as a concern but without detailed commentary. 2. Tracking: privacy is implicitly evoked through a neu- tral mention of tracking miles or vehicles, typically in reference to GPS technology. 3. Alarmist: privacy concerns reference “Big Brother” or “Orwellian” surveillance. 4. Mitigating: mention of privacy concerns is followed by recommendations for MBUF program designs that would reduce invasive practices.

35 Of the media stories that discussed privacy, 19% explic- itly mentioned it as a general concern but gave little or no detail on why MBUFs are a privacy concern. For example, a story in US Official News stated, A few states are experimenting with some kind of odometer fee—also known as a VMT or vehicle-miles- traveled tax—that charges drivers by the miles they travel. A VMT tax involves unproven technology and raises privacy questions, and it carries its own issues of fairness. (US Official News August 2013) Seventeen percent of stories mentioned “tracking” motor- ists but did so in language that did not specifically describe the issue as a problem. Tracking came up often in stories about MBUFs that use GPS technology. For example, a Washington State media source, Peninsula Gateway, noted, “Mileage-based fees are another possible source of future transportation revenue. That method would entail using new technology to track drivers’ mileage and charge fees accord- ingly” (Davis 2012). Another common subtheme of privacy, which appeared in 24% of stories, was the use of an alarmist tone to describe a mileage fee as a threat to civil liberties. Often evoking Big Brother or Orwellian imagery, these comments tended to suggest that a VMT tax was one step on a “slippery slope” toward complete government surveillance. For example, an opinion piece in the Contra Costa Times stated, The idea of taxing drivers, by following them with GPS transponders, is possibly the most dangerous violation of personal liberties that I have ever seen. This is an Orwellian “1984” concept that borders on a totalitarian oppression of individuals to benefit a regime (the government). Is Big Brother watching? (Waldron Aug. 2, 2012) Finally, 40% of stories that discussed privacy provided information about methods to reduce privacy concerns. Often privacy would be mentioned as a concern, but the story would discuss the option of reporting miles through odometers rather than GPS technology or suggest that a third party be responsible for mileage data. For example, a story from The Examiner explained, Speaking at the first meeting on Friday of California’s commission studying the issue, [James] Whitty said the key is to provide choices to the public, to protect the privacy of the data and be open about the program with motorists. The devices Oregon intends to employ track mileage and gasoline consumption. They send the information electronically from the car to private contractors like Azuga, which provide motorists with a monthly bill. The state then refunds drivers for any gas taxes accrued. (Lengell 2014) The prevalence of stories mentioning privacy was rela- tively consistent across years and by publication type (58% of industry publications and 48% of general public publica- tions). By geography, the percentage of media stories coded for privacy concerns varied somewhat; just over a third (35%) of stories mentioning privacy came from national sources compared with Western (24%), Midwestern (14%), Southern (13%) and Northeastern (13%) sources. Fairness As with the theme of privacy, several subthemes emerged under the theme of fairness. In some cases, an MBUF sys- tem was presented as being more equitable or fairer than the current gasoline tax. These discussions often described gas taxes as giving alternative and fuel-efficient vehicle owners a “free ride” or described those vehicle owners as not paying “their fair share” to fund road infrastructure. For example, a Deseret Morning News story said, As better mileage becomes commonplace, motorists won’t need to buy as much gasoline or diesel…. The only way to raise adequate revenue and charge all users fairly is to restructure the road tax so it is based on miles driven, rather than fuel burned. (Whitty 2011) Gary Gallegos, executive director of the San Diego Asso- ciation of Governments, was quoted making a similar com- ment regarding fuel-efficient vehicles: “It’s the idea of no free lunches. Everybody’s got to pay their share of the usage that they’re getting” (Cubbison 2014). On the other hand, some people expressed a concern that a switch from the gas tax to an MBUF would penalize alternative and fuel-efficient vehicle owners who were doing their part to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the Los Angeles Times quoted a member of the general public: Teresa Gutierrez wished she was pumping fuel into a gas-sipping hybrid instead of her hulking GMC Yukon. She was nevertheless cool to the idea that the state [of California] might start raising money for highway repairs by replacing the traditional gasoline tax with a fee based on how far people drive. Penalizing owners of hybrids and electric cars doesn’t feel right, Gutierrez said. “It defeats their green purpose.” (Weikel 2014) Media stories described an MBUF system as being ineq- uitable for a number of other reasons, as well. These rea- sons included arguments related to socioeconomic status (e.g., an MBUF could mean higher costs for low-income drivers), distance (e.g., the MBUF is unfair to rural drivers who must drive long distances), and damage to roads (e.g., trucks and heavy vehicles should pay more per mile than lighter vehicles, because heavier vehicles do more dam- age). For example, with respect to trucking, the Southern California Council of Governments’ Sharon Neely was quoted saying, The user would feel this [mileage fee] is more equitable. The question would be the truckers who say this is their livelihood. Some would argue they have more impact on the highway system than cars. (Scauzillo 2014)

36 Regarding equity issues related to out-of-state trips, the Providence Journal stated, [O]ne way to collect a vehicle-miles-traveled-tax, or VMT, is to check vehicle odometers, perhaps when their owners renew their registrations. But that would be unfair to motorists who often drive outside the state, because those miles would be counted and taxed, too. (Landis 2011) As another example, Amy Worth, a member of the Met- ropolitan Transportation Commission said in the Contra Costa Times, “[My concern] is that you’re going to charge somebody for living a long distance from work. The VMT is an inequitable approach that focuses the cost of 50 years of development on a single group of people” (Barnidge 2012). However some stories took a more positive tone, offering recommendations to address these equity issues. One trans- portation columnist argued, “Unlike the gas tax, which is regressive, a mileage system could even be tailored to charge low-income families (who tend to drive older, less fuel-effi- cient vehicles) a lower per-mile rate” (Richards 2014). Many stories discussed equity and fairness issues, though this theme appeared less frequently than privacy. Fairness was discussed in 30% of all of the media stories examined. The frequency with which fairness was mentioned varied from year to year, from a low of 17% of stories in 2011 to a high of 37% in 2010. Looking geographically, national sources were most common for stories that mentioned fair- ness (38%), followed by the West (26%), Northeast (13%), South (11%), and Midwest (11%). Technology Stories were coded for technology if they discussed whether or not technology is available and ready for implementing an MBUF system. For example, one media source noted, “Technology already is available to allow for the collection of basic mileage data from vehicles. Successful pilot pro- grams already have been conducted in Oregon, Washington, and Georgia” (Cawley 2011). The prevalence of stories was fairly low. Only 11% of media stories explicitly discussed technology. The majority of stories that discussed technology were found in national media sources (38%), followed by Midwestern (21%), (Northeastern (18%), Western (13%), and Southern (10%). Administration A number of media stories discussed concerns that an MBUF system would create administrative burdens by being too costly or too difficult to implement. For example, the costs associated with administration were discussed in a letter published in the Wisconsin State Journal: “Just implementing such a proposal [for mileage fees] would probably create another government office to just keep up with it” (Wisconsin State Journal 2013). Another writer stated a year later, “The VMT tax requires [that] fairly costly new technology be installed in vehicles and a new administrative system be created. The costs of operat- ing and auditing a VMT system are higher than collecting gas taxes” (State Journal–Register 2014). Administration concerns were not very prevalent: only 12% of the media stories discussed concerns related to the administrative costs of collecting a mileage fee or the lack of administrative capacity for enforcing such a fee. There was some variation across years: 33% of stories discussed mileage fees in 2011, falling to 6% in 2014. The West and Midwest accounted for the majority of stories with adminis- tration comments (27%), followed by national (18%), South- ern (16%), and Northeastern (11%) media stories. Cost Few media stories included a statement that a VMT tax would be too costly for drivers: only 5% of the stories explic- itly discussed the price of an MBUF as too high. When this issue did arise, it was usually mentioned in the context of low-income drivers, though some stories raised the concern with relation to rural drivers, taxi drivers, or truckers. Illus- trating the sentiments expressed about low-income drivers, a story from the Government Executive stated, The primary opposition to the VMT tax is that it will increase transportation costs, which may curb a slow and fragile economic recovery. It will have the worst impact on low-income individuals and families who drive long distances to work, usually out of necessity. Also, it is unclear as to whether the taxpayer or the government will pay for purchasing and installing the tracking equipment. For businesses, the increased cost of compliance will likely be passed on to consumers through higher prices. (Jaffe 2014) The majority of comments related to cost came from Western media sources (44%), followed by national and Southern (17%), and Northeastern and Midwestern (11%). BENEFITS OF MILEAGE-BASED FEES The media coverage did discuss benefits of mileage fees, although these comments were less common than those expressing concern. Two benefits mentioned were included in the original coding scheme: describing the MBUF sys- tem as sustainable or innovative. Tables 17 and 18 show the analysis of these two codes by year and Census region. Various other benefits were mentioned in 9% of the media stories collected but were not uniquely coded. These ben- efits included describing the MBUF system as efficient, dis- cussing possible environmental benefits (e.g., reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution), and commenting

37 on social benefits (e.g., reducing traffic congestion, reducing automobile use, and increasing transportation funding rev- enues). Finally, some stories framed the MBUF system as the “solution” to transportation funding. Because relatively few stories addressed any one of these benefits, the follow- ing analysis does not discuss trends by region or year. TABLE 17 BENEFITS DISCUSSED IN MEDIA STORIES, BY YEAR Media Story Code 2010 (%) 2011 (%) 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) All Years (%) Sustainable revenue source 11 9 11 12 13 12 Innovative or forward thinking system 9 13 11 5 6 8 TABLE 18 BENEFITS DISCUSSED IN MEDIA STORIES, BY GEOGRAPHY Media Story Code National (%) Midwest (%) Northeast (%) South (%) West (%) Sustainable revenue source 38 10 7 19 26 Innovative or forward thinking system 41 11 11 0 37 Note: this table presents a breakdown by geography for only those stories coded for each benefit. Sustainable One MBUF benefit mentioned in the media coverage is the possibility for MBUFs to serve as a sustainable and long- term revenue source for transportation infrastructure. For example, the Chicago Tribune described Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) as seeing the mileage fee system “as the most viable long-term alternative” (Halper 2013). Discussions of the MBUF as a sustainable revenue source were relatively uncommon in the media stories. Only 12% of the articles discussed the mileage fee as being a sustain- able or long-term source of revenue. The percentage of sto- ries presenting MBUFs as a sustainable source of revenue remained fairly consistent over the 5-year period, but there was some variation across regions. The majority of stories that described the MBUF system as sustainable came from national media (38%), followed by media in the West (26%), South (19%), Midwest (10%), and Northeast (7%). Innovative Revenue Source Another positive framing in the media coverage was the use of the terms “innovative” or “forward-thinking” to describe an MBUF. For example, one national media source stated, “It is time for transportation interests at all levels of govern- ment and throughout the country to work together to identify an alternative and innovative funding mechanism, such as a VMT system, to help support dwindling gas tax revenues” (US Official News April 2014). It was uncommon for media stories to describe the MBUF system as innovative; only 8% did so. There is relatively little variation by year. Geographically, the national media pub- lished the highest percentage of media stories describing the VMT tax as innovative (41%), followed by media in the West (37%), Midwest (11%), Northeast (11%), and South (0%). Other Benefits Several other benefits of an MBUF system were discussed in various media stories, but these issues did not appear fre- quently enough to warrant formal coding or analysis by year or region. A few stories discussed the MBUF system as being “effi- cient.” For example, a transportation columnist stated, “The most promising, efficient, and fair alternative is a fee based on the number of miles you drive in a year—often referred to as a mileage-based user fee” (Richards 2014). And the Wall Street Journal stated, “A new policy of charging drivers based on the miles they travel would make the system more equitable and efficient” (Geddes and Wassink 2014). Several articles discussed how an MBUF system might benefit the environment. Some noted the decrease in green- house gas emissions and pollution that could result if an MBUF reduced total vehicle miles traveled. For example, a story from the Chicago Tribune commented, Analysts call it a “mileage-based user fee.” Not surprisingly, the idea appeals to some liberals, as the taxes could be staggered to change driving patterns in ways that could help reduce congestion and greenhouse gases, for example. California planners are looking to the system as they devise strategies to meet the goals laid out in the state’s ambitious global warming laws. (Halper 2013) Another online media story noted, At the end of the day, less driving and/or driving more fuel-efficient cars and trucks points toward fewer emissions produced overall. If a VMT tax results in fewer produced emissions and more money becomes available for infrastructure improvement work, then this type of revenue-generating and air-quality-improvement mechanism would seem, at minimum, well worth further consideration. (Kandel 2014) A few stories framed the MBUF system as a tool to change behavior and reduce automobile use. As a story in Government Executive explains, [T]he greatest potential of Oregon’s [MBUF] program is its ability to change the way Americans think about the cost of driving. Right now the cost of road maintenance

38 is hidden in the price of fuel. In a mileage-based funding system, such as Oregon’s, drivers would receive monthly statements showing their driving activity and road expenses. The entire funding system becomes more like a utility—like an electricity or cable bill— enabling people to adjust their behavior in response to their expenses. In other words, people would think more proactively about their road consumption. Right now, like too many representatives in Washington, they don’t. (Jaffe 2014) Other media stories discussed the possible revenue benefits of implementing an MBUF. The Bond Buyer claimed, “Mile- age-based systems could yield revenues between three and eight times higher than the gas taxes currently used to maintain the public road system and back bonds” (Glazier 2012). Finally, several stories framed an MBUF as a potential “solution” to current or future problems funding transpor- tation infrastructure. For example, a story in USA Today quoted Jaime Rall, a senior policy specialist, as saying, “We’re seeing a lot of interest in VMT as one of the potential solutions to transportation funding gaps that states are deal- ing with” (Copeland and Overberg 2012). OTHER ISSUES A number of other issues related to mileage fees were evaluated through the coding process. Table 19 shows how often these additional themes appeared by year, and Table 20 shows the percentage of stories about each issue that appeared in the different regions. These issues are ordered in the table and discussed in the following text according to descending prevalence in the media coverage. Fuel Efficiency The issue of fuel efficiency and fuel-efficient vehicles was sometimes raised to illustrate the importance of a new source of transportation revenue (in effect setting up the argument for a discussion of shifting to an MBUF). For example, a story in the Las Vegas Review stated, Fuel taxes have not increased since 1993. That, combined with an increasing number of fuel-efficient vehicles and higher costs to build roads and bridges, weakens the purchasing power of gas tax revenues. . . . If motorists pay fees for miles traveled, fuel taxes, which amount to 52 cents per gallon, would go away. (Packer 2010) Alternatively, fuel efficiency was sometimes discussed in the same sentence or paragraph as mileage fees. For example, a story in the US Official News explained, “Better fuel mile- age, hybrids and electric cars are contributing to a decline in fuel tax revenue. VMT would attempt to reverse that decline by charging motorists for the miles they drive rather than a flat tax at the pump” (US Official News August 2013). TABLE 19 OTHER ISSUES DISCUSSED IN MEDIA STORIES, BY YEAR Media Story Code 2010 (%) 2011 (%) 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) All Years (%) Fuel efficiency 34 30 43 45 49 43 Replacing the gas tax with a mileage fee 46 59 34 36 33 38 Alternative (elec- tric) vehicles 14 37 23 8 25 21 Research conducted 29 54 17 11 16 21 Research underway 23 15 23 16 16 18 Describing the VMT tax as a user fee 14 15 8 8 19 14 Political will 26 22 11 14 6 13 Congestion pricing 14 13 8 6 8 9 Research needed 11 17 4 2 4 6 Trucks or truck- ing industries/ professionals 3 4 4 2 7 5 Need for public support/ acceptance 3 5 8 2 1 3 TABLE 20 OTHER ISSUES DISCUSSED IN MEDIA STORIES, BY GEOGRAPHY National National (%) Midwest (%) Northeast (%) South (%) West (%) Fuel efficiency 15 33 14 13 24 Replacing the gas tax with a mileage fee 31 14 14 14 26 Alternative (electric) vehicles 32 14 13 11 30 Research conducted 24 13 21 15 27 Research underway 27 13 10 14 37 Describing the VMT tax as a user fee 30 14 12 10 36 Political will 35 13 20 11 22 Congestion pricing 29 14 33 5 19 Research needed 11 17 4 2 4 Trucks or trucking industries/ professionals 24 29 12 6 29 Need for public support/acceptance 20 10 10 10 50 Note: This table presents a breakdown by geography for only those stories coded for each issue. Fuel efficiency was a prominent issue in the media stories. Forty-three percent of all media stories collected discussed

39 the impact of improving fuel efficiency on gas tax revenues; this percentage fluctuated by year from a low of 34% in 2010 to a high of 49% in 2014. The majority of stories discussing fuel efficiency came from national sources (33%), followed by media sources in the West (24%), Midwest (15%), North- east (14%), and South (13%). Replacing the Gasoline Tax with an MBUF Replacing the gasoline tax with an MBUF at the state or fed- eral level was commonly mentioned in the media coverage. For example, one source stated, “Replacing federal and state gasoline taxes as the prime source of transportation spend- ing with a system of mileage-based charges may eventually be technically and politically feasible” (Watts 2014). Discussion of replacing the gas tax was fairly prevalent, with 38% of all stories commenting on replacing it with an MBUF. This topic appeared in a third to half of stories from each year. Looking across all years, of those stories discussing MBUFs as a replacement for fuel taxes, most of these stories came from national (31%) and Western (26%) media sources. Alternative Vehicles Another prominent theme—alternative (e.g., electric) vehi- cles—was discussed in 21% of the media stories. As with fuel efficiency, alternative vehicles were often discussed in the context of reduced gas tax revenues creating a need for an MBUF or other source of revenue. For example, a story in the Virginia Pilot stated, “As increasing numbers of high-fuel-mileage vehicles (hybrids, electric, etc.) reach the highways, alternative methods of raising revenues will be necessary. A mileage-based tax is appropriate, with miles driven obtained through factory-installed remote odometer- monitoring devices” (Hallam 2010). Alternative vehicles were also discussed in terms of fairness and equity (i.e., the need for owners of alternative vehicles to pay their share to maintain road infrastructure). Nearly a quarter of all media stories discussed alterna- tive vehicles, although there was some variation across years. National media sources and sources from the West accounted for a majority of those stories (32% and 30%, respectively). Research Conducted Another theme looked at stories that referred to completed MBUF research. Discussion of this topic varied from brief mention to in-depth discussion of results from a particular study. For example, one story from the Journal of Commerce reported in depth on research, stating, Payment on the basis of VMT has been successfully carried out in pilot projects in Oregon (the U.S. leader in transportation funding) and on heavy trucks in Germany. Oregon is laying the groundwork for drivers to pay a “mileage-based user fee” rather than the traditional gas tax. In 2012, the state successfully completed a Road Usage Charge Pilot Program. It found that providing users with options for recording the number of miles travelled (including at least one option that did not use GPS technology so as to assuage drivers’ privacy fears) contributed to the success of the program. (Furchtgott- Roth 2014) Completed research projects (e.g., pilot projects, sur- veys, or cost-benefit analyses) were mentioned in nearly a quarter of all stories (21%). There was little variation across regions in the percentage of stories discussing com- pleted research. Across years, discussion of completed research fell slightly over time. Research Under Way Several stories discussed ongoing research projects, such as MBUF pilot projects, in varying detail. For example, a story from the Christian Science Monitor reported, The University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center is testing a VMT in a $16.5 million federally funded research project. Nevada just launched a three-year VMT study. Most authorities on the subject believe a transition to a VMT would take several years. (Cassidy 2010) Fourteen percent of all stories discussed the importance of more research. There was little variation across years. Of the stories that mentioned current research projects, the majority came from Western sources (37%). “User Fee” Terminology Overall, 14% of the media stories explicitly referred to the VMT tax as a “user fee.” A story from the Daily Camera compared an MBUF to utility user fees: We need to charge for transportation more like water, so that the pricing of both the “tap fee” and the “user fees” provide both adequate funding and useful incentives. Gas taxes, vehicle-mileage fees, tolls, etc. are either impractical or illegal for a city to do on its own, but one “user fee” approach that can be implemented is parking fees. Parking fees are not perfect—they do not reflect mileage, for example. But at least they provide a way to directly price actual usage of the system. (Pomerance 2012) Describing the MBUF as a user fee was not very common (14%), and there was little variation across years. However, the percent of stories describing the MBUF as a user fee var- ied somewhat by geography: media from the West accounted for the greatest percentage of articles discussing user fees (36%), followed by the Northeast and Midwest (14% and 12%, respectively), and the South (10%). Thirty percent of the sources that mentioned user fees were from the national news media.

40 Political Will Thirteen percent of media stories included statements about whether elected officials did or did not have the political will to support an MBUF. Most commonly, the stories discussed a lack of political will, especially at the federal level. For example, a story in the Bond Buyer noted, [Senator Barbara] Boxer also said she would support a tax on vehicle miles traveled, as long as the data was reported on the honor system rather than recorded by devices installed in vehicles. But she added that she doesn’t think a VMT tax would be widely supported by other Congress members. (Jagoda 2013) On the other hand, the same publication later printed an article arguing that political will might be greater at the state than federal level: A federal VMT tax is “highly unrealistic,” says Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. But he says such taxes are likely at the state level in coming years. (Copeland 2014) National media sources accounted for a greater percentage of stories mentioning political will (35%) compared with West- ern (22%), Northeastern (20%), Midwestern (13%), and South- ern (11%) sources. The discussion of political will declined over the years, falling from 26% in 2010 to 6% in 2014. Congestion Pricing When discussed, the possibility of congestion pricing was often offered as a benefit to switching to a mileage-based user fee system. For example, one story from the Wall Street Journal stated, “Mileage-based fees can also be adjusted to discourage motorists from driving on the most congested roads or at the busiest times of day” (Totty 2012). Mention that MBUFs that might incorporate congestion pric- ing was uncommon; only 9% of the media stories mentioned congestion pricing, a percentage that held fairly consistently over the years. The majority of these discussions appeared in Northeastern sources (33%) followed by national (29%), West- ern (19%), Midwestern (14%), and Southern (5%) sources. Research Needed The media stories were coded to determine how often the need for additional MBUF research was discussed. For example, one story calling for additional research stated, “Taxing drivers by the mile won’t be easy. . . . The first step is more research, preferably at the state or regional level” (Christian Science Monitor 2010). Overall, only 6% of stories discussed the need for addi- tional research, and this topic appeared much more often in 2010 and 2011 than in later years. The majority of the stories came from Northeastern media sources (33%). Trucking Only 5% of media stories discussed mileage fees in conjunction with trucking. Typically, the stories either argued that heavy trucks be assessed for additional damage to road infrastructure or presented the concerns of trucking industry representatives or professionals. For example, one media source stated, “Sub- committee member Fred Burns, owner of a Marlinton-based trucking company, said those in his industry would prefer a fuel tax increase to fees based on load weight and miles traveled, or increases in Turnpike tolls” (Kabler 2013). There was little variation across years in the frequency with which MBUF media stories mentioned trucking. Geo- graphically, the majority of stories discussing trucking issues came from Western, Midwestern, and national sources. Importance of Public Support Stories were also analyzed to see whether they discussed the need for public acceptance in order to implement an MBUF. Public support was occasionally brought up by professionals or elected officials. For example, a US Official News story noted that Paul Enos of the Nevada Trucking Association “expressed serious doubts whether a skeptical public will ever accept a vehicle miles traveled tax” (US Official News Aug. 20, 2013). Discussion of the need for public support of a mileage fee was consistently low across all years (3%); the majority of com- ments discussing public support came from Western sources. SUMMARY OF KEY CHAPTER FINDINGS A total of 359 media stories from 2010 through 2014 were reviewed to assess how MBUFs are portrayed in the news media. To analyze the media coverage, stories were first evaluated by publication type (i.e., intended for the general public or for industry professionals) and geography (national versus a particular Census region). Next, the stories were analyzed in terms of their overall tone toward MBUFs, the kinds of people whose opinions were quoted (professional, elected official, or member of the general public), and the fre- quency and nature of comments on a wide variety of themes, including perceived problems and benefits of an MBUF. Overall, the media stories discussing MBUFs repre- sented the different regions of the United States fairly well, although more articles came from the West (23%), Midwest (16%), and Northeast (16%) than from the South (12%). Thirty-three percent of the stories were published in national news media such as the New York Times or US Official News.

41 The majority of media stories were geared toward a general audience (83%) rather than industry professionals (17%). In terms of overall tone toward MBUFs, media stories tended to be neutral (39%) or mixed (29%); stories with a clearly positive (18%) or negative (13%) tone were less prevalent. The general public’s preferences and opinions related to MBUFs are poorly represented in the news media cover- age analyzed; the views of the general public appeared only rarely. For example, only 5% of media stories incorporated quotes from the general public and only 10% mentioned the opinions or views of the public. By contrast, media stories often quoted professionals (38%) and elected officials (20%) who offered opinions, clarification, and information related to MBUFs. Presenting information related to mileage fees and the opinions of professionals and elected officials certainly informs public opinion, but what the public thinks about mile- age fees cannot be well understood from the media coverage. In addition, while public support is clearly an important factor in implementing a mileage fee, only 3% of stories explicitly addressed the need for public acceptance. By far the most common concern discussed in the media stories was privacy (50% of stories). This issue was framed in many ways, including government surveillance (e.g., Big Brother or Orwellian imagery), general concern, and implicit concerns related to technology and tracking. A majority of stories that discussed this topic included suggestions for designing MBUFs to minimize the invasion of privacy (e.g., using odometer-reading technology or having the private sector collect mileage data). The issue of fairness also was raised often in media sto- ries (30%), although it did not come up as often as privacy. Some people expressed concern that a switch from the gas tax to an MBUF would penalize owners of alternative and fuel-efficient vehicles who were doing their part to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A countering opinion was that MBUFs are fairer than the gas tax because they ensure that drivers of alternative and fuel- efficient cars will pay their fair share to support transpor- tation infrastructure. Other fairness issues focused on how MBUFs would affect rural and low-income drivers. Some issues that appeared frequently in the qualitative research analyzed for this study did not come up as often in the media stories; for example, technology came up in only 11% of stories, administration in 12%, and cost in 5%. Some media stories described MBUFs in terms of their benefits, primarily as a revenue source that was sustainable (8% of stories) and innovative (12% of stories). Environ- mental and fiscal benefits were discussed as well, and the idea of an MBUF was sometimes described as a possible solution to the problem of funding transportation infrastruc- ture in the future. Finally, various other concerns were identified in the media stories. Many stories (43%) discussed increasing fuel efficiency to justify switching from fuel taxes to an MBUF, for purposes of revenue generation or fairness. Replacing the gasoline tax with a mileage fee was another prevalent theme (38% of stories), as was discussing alternative vehicles in relation to the MBUF system (21%). Media stories discussed previous research (21%) and current research projects (18%). Political will (usually mentioned in reference to a lack of will for enacting an MBUF system) was discussed in 13% of the stories. The stories less commonly described the mile- age fee explicitly as a user fee (14% of stories), mentioned congestion pricing (9%), commented on the need for future research (6%), or discussed the trucking industry (5%). Of all the themes explored, the one that appeared in the smallest percentage of stories (3%) was the need for public support in order to enact an MBUF system.

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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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