How Will Road Usage Charging Work in Future State Smart Roads and Smart Cities?

November 26, 2021

When considering the state of our country’s infrastructure, it’s clear that change is needed to sustain our roads, bridges, and tunnels for our future needs. Our infrastructure is crumbling at a surprising rate, and we need to take action to ensure that we will have a way to travel in the future. Road usage charging is one of the ways that we have been working to ensure that we will have a solid infrastructure for future generations. This involves ensuring that our current infrastructure system remains in place and upgrading it to meet the technological needs of future vehicles. This article will discuss smart roads and smart cities and how they will interact with road usage charging to form a cohesive system. First, we must define what these terms mean, then break down how they interact. 

What are Smart Roads? 

Smart roads harness technological tools that interact with the environment to allow safe and efficient transportation by drivers on the road. There are many types of infrastructure involved in smart roads, including physical infrastructures such as sensors and solar panels, along with software infrastructures such as artificial intelligence and big data. There are three main features involved in smart road technology right now: 

  • Pressure Sensors: Pressure sensors can measure vehicle weight and speed in real-time. These can enforce traffic laws in real-time. 
  • Smart Traffic Signs: These traffic signs can help drivers use the road for optimal safety and efficiency. If a driver uses a smart car, these signs can relay a voice message telling a driver what to do. This eliminates the confusion caused by many of the road signs that exist today. 
  • Smart Intersections: These traffic signs can help pedestrians make better use of the road. They can also prioritize emergency vehicles and share information with oncoming vehicles if they need to move lanes or take other action. 

There are many advantages to smart roads that may lead cities to consider them for implementation. Mainly, they are safer than the current system. These roads can detect vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists to keep people traveling in any manner safer on our roads. It also helps first responders get where they need to go faster.

Furthermore, as autonomous vehicles become more and more popular, these vehicles can interact better with these roads. This creates an even safer environment and helps vehicles use the road more efficiently, leading to less traffic and a city that runs more smoothly. 

Cities with lots of congestion and traffic incidents are very likely to consider smart roads in the coming years, as cities are growing more populated and traffic is getting worse. It is critical to take action to keep people safe and moving on the roads. 

What is Road Usage Charging? 

Road usage charging, also called RUC, is precisely what the name implies. It is charging for how many miles a driver travels on the road. While this may be a terrifying concept at first, it is proposed to replace the gas tax and costs about the same as the gas tax for most drivers. There are many issues with the gas tax that road usage charging addresses. 

The revenue from gas tax currently funds the Highway Trust Fund, where all of the money to repair and maintain our nation’s infrastructure is collected. Because there have not been enough funds in the Highway Trust Fund for a long time, our nation’s infrastructure has been aging without proper maintenance and repair. It’s crumbling at a rapid rate, and we don’t have the money to keep up with it. The gas tax is simply not enough to fund the Highway Trust Fund anymore for various reasons. 

Firstly, the gas tax has not been adjusted in over 25 years to keep up with inflation. This means that the gas tax is worth 40% less than when it was last changed. Politicians and voters are resistant to raising taxes, but the funds are necessary to pay for repairing our infrastructure. 

Secondly, with the increase in electric and fuel-efficient vehicles, some drivers pay much less into the gas tax, if they pay at all. These vehicles still inflict wear and tear on the road, so it is not fair that they do not pay towards its maintenance. With a road usage charge, these vehicles would pay alongside vehicles that use gas to maintain the roads they use. 

With more vehicles paying into the system, it would cost each driver about the same as the gas tax to implement a road usage charging system. Some states have already done so, and Oregon and Utah have fully functioning road usage charging programs that have found great success. This method is likely to gain traction all over the country in the coming years.

How Will Road Usage Charging and Smart Roads Interact?

Smart roads are expensive to maintain, so the Highway Trust Fund must have the money it needs to maintain these roads not only structurally but technologically. There are many moving pieces to get this going, but if major cities implement smart roads, they will likely track miles for road usage charging. First, we must understand how miles are currently tracked. 

Right now, drivers plug a device into their OBD port that tracks the miles that they travel in their vehicle. It links to an online account, where they set up a digital wallet with an automated payment method. Depending on how many miles they travel, the system automatically deducts money from this wallet to make paying the road usage charge simple and easy for drivers. 

With smart roads, there is the potential for roads to communicate with the vehicle, making the process even more automatic. Drivers may not even have to plug a device into their vehicle; their car may simply interact with the road to track how many miles they’ve driven, and it can send the information directly to the city to track in a city-wide database. This way, road usage charging can be implemented in major cities without having to track individual drivers. This makes the administrative side of implementing road usage charging much easier, and it will therefore be much more likely for cities to use road usage charging. 

Follow the Future of Road Usage Charging and Smart Roads on Azuga’s Blog!

Azuga will keep you up to date on everything that has to do with infrastructure and technology. We are leaders in the fleet industry, and the roads are our business. Follow our blog and @Azuga Insight on Twitter to keep up with everything happening on the roads and stay up to date. 

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