On June 12, 2011, Move Colorado hosted the Mileage Based User Fee Workshop in Breckenridge, in advance of the 3rd Annual Mileage Based User Fee Symposium, for which Move Colorado served as local host. Invitees to the June 12th workshop were individuals from Colorado that were attending the MBUF Symposium for the first time or in some cases where they were not able to participate in the Symposium, wanted to learn more about MBUF from the Colorado perspective.

Bob Sakaguchi, co-chair of the Move Colorado MBUF Task Force served as moderator for the workshop and kicked things off by introducing Mark Mehalko, President of Move Colorado who presented the lead off keynote. Mark Mehalko outlined Move Colorado’s effort to develop a 3-5 Year Strategic Plan for the organization and develop and implement a sustainable transportation finance solution. The Mileage Based Fee approach has been an element of our short term effort to build on SB09-108 provisions establishing a High Performance Transportation Enterprise which can charge by the mile – a tool. Bringing the National Symposium resources to Colorado will help us understand this potential finance solution and help us determine if there is a pathway for Colorado to develop this approach in our state.

Carla Perez, a major architect of the FASTER legislation joined the presentation identifying key issues to address in the workshop: resistance to concept of VMT and MBUF – how do we overcome that; and identifying Colorado’s need for flexible funding sources because we value multi-modalism; transit is not just an alternative interest, there is a need to encourage MBUF to track and pursue a transit component – current funding from FTA allows RTD to work with highways in corridors. This collaboration could be an important element if flexing our transportation resources.

Mark’s presentation was followed by a by Paul Sorenson of the RAND Corp. which provided the background on the national crisis in transportation and why Mileage Based User Fees are being contemplated as a more equitable and sustainable user-based funding mechanism than the current declining gas tax which supports the federal Highway Trust Fund.

Dr. Flo Raitano, co-chair of Move Colorado’s MBUF Task Force then gave an entertaining but nonetheless pointed presentation on the Politics of MBUF in Colorado, taking the audience through several math exercises to make the point the current gas tax revenues are unsustainable, and that the current gas tax scheme is far less equitable to rural drivers than a well thought-out mileage based user fee program would be. David Ungemah from PB, the lead on the CDOT VMT pilot study gave an overview of where CDOT is in the process of looking at MBUF from a Colorado-centric perspective.

Panel Perspectives

A panel of critical interest groups then rounded out the workshop with perspectives on the challenges and issues from rural Colorado (Joe Kiely), air quality (Skip Spensely), economic development (Bill Becker) and TMA/TMOs (Rich McClintock).

Opening perspectives: Looking at MBUF, TMO’s see a price in congestion; environmental groups see ways to meet environmental standards; but people, perhaps a rural perspective, have no idea what we are talking about, no idea about what gas tax pays for, and view transportation as an entitlement program; the average man or woman on the street have no clue unless they can touch it or feel it, folks don’t have much idea what it is about…

Starting the conversation: Start with stakeholders, and figure out how to get to ordinary citizens, maybe a campaign; we need to borrow Malcolm Gladwell’s “chunky tomato sauce concept”, http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html recognizing that there are a lot of issues/groups tied into this solution, not just one solution; and we should also borrow from the recent Colorado Civic Engagement Project, engaging a representative profile of local leadership and street champions (not just elected officials) to get our brains around it and explain it to folks; let’s think #1-corridors (which have highest need and congestion, users to pay tolls), then #2-regionally, looking at opportunities for air inspection/odometer reading, and #3-get ahead of the curve at the state level where conversation needed – united there is a chance but we need to be out ahead of it.

For state implementation, we need to address: How is the revenue shared, how do we reach down to city and county roads, what is the relationship of the “cost of the roadway you are on, and what you are paying for,” does it cover rural systems (big issue); is it smart, fair – if it came out nationally, it should be for every level; it won’t happen nationally, it needs to happen at the state level, and generate significant funding; we need to fight the notion that highways are free, and we can do that more easily at the state level; we need to use tolling as an investment and a solution to traffic problems on a multi-modal basis; and we need to get approval to toll interstates.

To get public acceptance: Build understanding of the disconnect between what we have and what we want, “don’t get in the mechanics,” focus on the why, i.e., it doesn’t make sense to drive when we can drive less, many constituencies would unite around that; we should frame the issue in broader terms, develop a broader set of goals, i.e., Gladwell – this could involve the RAQC, business, many others; start the campaign yesterday – the public is going from a zero base; we will intimately need to face the ballot and to fund a campaign is expensive, a tax increase – it’s not the time for it.

Open Comments and Reactions

Finally, Randy Harrison, Executive Director for Move Colorado took the group through a very quick brainstorming exercise and developed a list of key issues surrounding MBUF implementation for Colorado. Those issues included:

  1. Geographic Equity – ensuring the proposed system is fair and equitable, taking into account the need that rural drivers have to access school, health care, work and community activities at sometimes significant distances.
  2. Value Proposition – what’s in it for the driver? What other services could be included in the package to make it more attractive to vehicle operators.
  3. Education – it is very clear that the public at large does not understand how the existing transportation system is funded, that the revenues generated by the traditional method of gas tax is declining or that current revenues are not sufficient to maintain the current transportation system, let alone address additional capacity issues.
  4. Implementation on a nationwide basis is critical, but Colorado could serve as a laboratory for how to implement it. Implementation should be phased and should consider a voluntary approach as opposed to a mandated approach.