Senate infrastructure bill includes pilot program to test mileage tax on motorists

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had floated the creation of a vehicle miles traveled system earlier this year as a way to fund an infrastructure bill.
Heavy Chicago traffic.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration floated the idea of taxing motorists based on the number of miles they travel each year. Now, senators who crafted the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill are moving that idea one step closer to reality.

A pilot program to create a system for taxing drivers based on their vehicle mileage was slipped into Section 13002 of the legislation entitled, "National motor vehicle per-mile user fee pilot." Senators could change the language as they try to get a final version of the bill that can secure enough votes for passage.

Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg floated the creation of such a system during his confirmation process as a way to fund an infrastructure bill. The idea was later abandoned by the Biden administration. 

The current draft legislation requires Buttigieg and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to provide recommendations to Congress within three years after enactment of the bill, allowing lawmakers to decide then whether to impose a national per-mile tax.

The program would target “passenger motor vehicles, light trucks, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks” and suggest fees that “may vary between vehicle types and weight classes to reflect estimated impacts on infrastructure, safety, congestion, the environment, or other related social impacts."

It recommends seeking volunteers in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico to test various ways of tracking mileage, including through smart phone apps, third-party on-board diagnostic devices and "any other method” that Buttigieg considers appropriate.

"The Secretary, in coordination with the Secretary of the Treasury, and consistent with the recommendations of the advisory board, shall establish a pilot program to demonstrate a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee to restore and maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and to improve and maintain the surface transportation system," the bill states.

"The objectives of the pilot program are to test the design, acceptance, implementation, and financial sustainability of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee, to address the need for additional revenue for surface transportation infrastructure and a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee; and to provide recommendations relating to the adoption and implementation of a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee."