New frontiers for transportation policy: regulating autonomous vehicles, replacing/augmenting the gas tax

Changes in the way we drive (or, rather, let the robot drive us) and the fuel efficiency of next generation cars and trucks compound challenges for transportation policymakers.

With respect to fuel efficiency, National Council of State Legislatures writes

Just a day after the White House said it was considering supporting a bump in the federal gasoline tax, a trio of state legislatyors at NCSL’s State Transportation Leaders Symposium detailed some innovative approaches to raising transportation fund using the motor fuel tax.

When North Carolina Representative John Torbett (R) started looking at the gas tax in his state, he was convinced of the folly of basing a funding mechanism on such an unstable commodity. The current gas tax formula, he said, “was declining on a death spiral.”

NCSL reports that state legislature’s are looking at linking the gas tax to escalators like population growth and inflation, increased tolling, and congestion pricing. Washington, as we wrote, will try a pay-per-mile experiment early next year. 

With respect to autonomous vehicles, NCSL also has thoughts.

Autonomous vehicles were in the driver’s seat during the second day of NCSL’s State Transportation Leaders Symposium last week in Denver. Lawmakers, researchers and administrators from both the public and private sectors engaged in what exactly an autonomous vehicle is, what regulatory structure is needed and what kind of infrastructure states need to fully utilize the benefits and cope with the challenges of the coming…

As for legislators, [Austin] Brown [executive director of the Policy Institute of Energy, Environment and the Economy at the University of California, Davis] advised it is “a unique time to get a policy framework in place to get the benefits from automated vehicles and minimize unintended consequences,” mentioning safety, congestion, pollution and equity as important issues related to automated,automated vehicles.

“The role of public policy,” he said, “is to help us do the things that are hard but are still a good idea.” 

In our state, autonomous vehicles are part of ambitious plans for the region’s transportation future. The policy implications are, as always, significant and worth watching.