The nation’s roadways and transportation infrastructure are in desperate need of repair. This is not a political soundbite, but an economic reality. In fact, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association found that 95 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats who voted to increase their states’ gasoline tax won re-election in 2018. However, Congressional unwillingness to fund the Highway Trust Fund beyond the 18.4 cents per gallon rate set in 1993 has put significant pressure on individual states to properly fund and plan for future road improvements.
With the country’s central repository for surface transportation funds set to report an estimated negative $20 billion in 2020, Connecticut must implement a sustainable highway financing solution.
Approximately 25 percent of the state’s transportation revenue comes from the Highway Trust Fund, while the remaining 75 percent comes from the local 39.3 cents per gallon rate (the ninth highest in the country according the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research. As cars and trucks become increasingly fuel efficient and automakers trend towards electric vehicles, Connecticut will continue to see gas tax revenue drop and surface transportation systems worsen. Legislative Research Office). As cars and trucks become increasingly fuel efficient and automakers trend towards electric vehicles, Connecticut will continue to see gas tax revenue drop and surface transportation systems worsen. Moreover, the state’s reliance on such a heavy consumption tax is at direct odds with Gov. Ned Lamont’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030.
There is no silver bullet, no single right answer; but there are also no free roads.
The conventional concept of a toll as a barrier across highway roads that requires motorists to stop and pay cash, creating back-ups and congestion is as outdated and inefficient as wall-mounted telephones and switchboards that once required human operators. The reality of tolling today is as stark a comparison between a rotary telephone and technology’s latest smartphone.
Tolling has evolved into what the industry terms, “mobility as a service.” Just as apps like Uber or Lyft may be loaded onto your smartphone, “tolling” in 2019 offers applications for parking, public transportation, and ferry services, as well as payment options for drive-thrus—fast food, car washes, and pharmacies. This is not a hope for the future, this is the reality in Portugal, Finland, the United Kingdom, and countless other countries around the world.
The legislature in Connecticut is currently engaged in whether to toll or not to toll. Perhaps the question is better expressed as: “How do we pay for transportation?”
Consider again the evolution of the telephone. Cellular customers pay a fee for each call and connection made. The more calls you make (depending upon your service plan), the more you pay. Without those fees, service providers would not have been able to invest in and develop technology to deliver three, four and eventually 5G coverage.
As customers, we willingly invest in the telecommunications industry to deliver greater coverage and faster, more reliable technology… because we all know that feeling of frustration when Spotify won’t load, or emails won’t send. As road users, we share a similar responsibility to invest in transportation solutions that can generate revenue, improve road safety and decrease congestion, and that will in turn attract new business to the state, offer access to new jobs and foster innovation.
Out-of-state vehicles on their way to New York or Massachusetts account for up to 40 percent of road users in the state, levying a heavy burden on local drivers. Tolling in the past was cumbersome and inefficient, but necessary. Eighty percent of communities across the United States depend on trucks to deliver everyday commodities but deteriorating roads across the country have led to higher vehicle and maintenance costs, re-routing and delays, and safety concerns for poor or underfunded maintenance and services of roadways.
Elected officials have an opportunity to provide their constituents safe, reliable and efficient roads. Advanced transportation solutions will enable decision makers in Connecticut to do not just that, but to serve as a pioneer and model for mobility as a service in the United States.
Jason Wall is the CEO of A-to-Be USA , a national tolling and back-office solutions provider.