Fixing Funding by the Mile: A Primer and Analysis of Road User Charge Systems

March 12, 2019

National League of Cities

M obility is central to individual prosperity, commerce and the growth of communities. When it comes to city streets, commuter highways, rail lines and ports, cities need transportation networks that run like clockwork. But the costs of congestion and maintenance backlogs are ever-growing, and the funding model the nation uses is not keeping pace with our needs.

Today’s model for funding transportation, the Highway Trust Fund, was established in the 1950s — a time when autonomous cars and smartphones were mere science fiction. Times have changed — GPS is built into cars and phones, and vehicles are more fuel-efficient. But the funding model is stuck using yesterday’s gas prices. Cities want to work with Congress to find a rational way forward, and this report explores one of the most viable ideas.

This action guide explores how road user charge (RUC) systems can become a practical funding alternative to  keep up with the nation’s transportation and mobility projects. Autonomous vehicle technology, app-based mobility models and promises of smart city connectivity now make road user models more practical for the future. These systems could charge a driver for their use of a roadway and provide sustainable funding for America’s transportation. Through the real-world examples in the report, readers will learn more about the concept and technology behind RUC systems, review the different pilot programs and see potential advantages and barriers to implementing a RUC program in the United States.

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