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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 12, 2021

Per-mile fee would be tested, but no proof plan is aimed at making cars obsolete

If Your Time is short

  • The infrastructure bill moving through Congress includes a provision for a pilot program to test the use of a fee that would charge motorists based on the number of miles they drive.

  • Enacting such a fee would require separate legislation.

  • It’s unknown whether such a fee would replace or be in addition to federal gasoline taxes, or whether it would be set at a rate that would make driving a car too costly.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill making its way through Congress would take a step toward creating a fee that would tax every mile Americans drive to pay for the upkeep of roads and highways.

But the bill would only launch a pilot program to test a motor vehicle per-mile user fee. It would not create a fee. 

And, if in the future such a fee were created, it’s anyone guess how much it would be — or whether it would replace or be on top of the federal gasoline tax, which currently pays for road building.

Which means a viral image goes too far in claiming that the bill’s provision would halt car-driving.

"Buried on page 508 of the 2,702 page infrastructure bill is a pilot program for a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee, which is basically a long-term plan to make it too expensive to drive a car," says the image, which references a blog post that makes essentially the same claim.

The image was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

What the bill says

The infrastructure bill passed the Senate, 69-40, on Aug. 10. The legislation states that the pilot program for the user fee is envisioned as a possible way "to restore and maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and to improve and maintain the surface transportation system."

The pilot program, according to the bill’s text, would "test the design, acceptance, implementation and financial sustainability of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee," and provide recommendations for establishing such a fee. 

Volunteers would be recruited to test different methods of recording miles driven by passenger and commercial vehicles. They would pay the fees and then be reimbursed by the government.

The pilot program would run from fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2026.

A report would be issued on "whether motor vehicle per-mile user fees can maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and improve and maintain the surface transportation system."

If a fee created, many variables

While the prospects of a user fee being approved are unknown, the idea to include it in the infrastructure bill was floated in March by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, but then quickly walked back.

The fee has long been discussed as a means of replacing the gas tax as the country moves toward electric cars, said Michele Nellenbach, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Bipartisan Policy Center. States have been doing their own pilot programs in the context of replacing gas taxes as well.

If a federal fee were created, both it and the gas tax could be charged for some period of time while Americans move from gas-powered to electric-powered cars, Nellenbach said. 

But even if it were created, we don’t know now how much it would be or whether it would be enough to make car-driving obsolete.

And there are other variables that would help determine whether a fee would make driving a car more expensive.

According to a Tax Foundation analysis:

  • A per-mile user fee could be done with a flat fee per mile, or with different rates for different locations.

  • The Highway Trust Fund is projected to run out of money by the end of 2021, so it is highly unlikely that a mileage fee could replace the gas tax in time, which would mean finding ways to add revenue or to the fund, through a fee or by other means, or to reduce its expenditures.

Our ruling

A Facebook claim states that the federal infrastructure bill includes "a pilot program for a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee, which is basically a long-term plan to make it too expensive to drive a car."

The legislation does include a pilot program to test a per-mile user fee among volunteers who are willing to participate. But there isn’t evidence now that it would become permanent or, if it did, that such a fee would end up making driving so prohibitively expensive as to make it obsolete.

The image contains an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

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Per-mile fee would be tested, but no proof plan is aimed at making cars obsolete

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