Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Treat Streets as Utilities

Charging for the usage of streets helps fund and more accurately value these common resources.
busy street in Hong Kong lined with trees and buildings

Photo by Connor Wang on Unsplash

Pricing streets similarly to other utilities can help governments create sustainable funding streams for these shared resources. Current funding models for the building and repair of streets typically relies on revenue from gas taxes, registration fees, and other personal vehicle-based charges. Not only may these revenue streams decrease in the future as personal vehicle use declines, most current tax and fee models do not adequately fund the needed maintenance of many roads. Shifting towards a model that views and treats streets as utilities can help fund maintenance by charging usage-based fees to those who use them.

Issues & approaches

Recalibrate Thinking on Street Usage: Streets are a vital part of transportation infrastructure and have long been available to users without true usage-based charges. This type of thinking has led to the stance that streets are a free public good and has limited the opportunity for cities to generate the revenue needed for street maintenance and improvements. Treating streets as utilities, similar to how we consider our water and electric infrastructure, clarifies the fact that streets are a limited resource and that they are costly to build and maintain. It also allows a shift towards usage-based charging that can help incentivize more sustainable and efficient travel modes. However, a shift toward usage-based charging also has the potential to create greater inequities and adversely impact lower income communities. Any shift in policy would have to include measures that address this potential hardship.  

Consider Both New and Existing Modes Equally: As new mobility options have rolled out, some cities have created usage-based fee programs to mitigate their impacts. While these programs are good models for how charges can impact travel patterns and new mobility use, existing mobility modes are typically not considered in these fee structures. Personal automobiles have, by far, the largest impacts on the transportation systems, yet they currently use these systems for minimal costs and with little to no relationship between use and impacts. As new mobility modes are being charged and regulated for their impact on the transportation system, doing the same for existing modes would have a larger effect on mitigating the impacts that new mobility fees are meant to address.

Anticipate Reductions in Gas Tax Revenue: In most cities, a significant portion of street maintenance and improvement funds originate from gas tax and other car-based fees. As new mobility modes and options grow, the anticipated decline in personal vehicle use and ownership will also decrease the amount of car-based tax and fee revenues. Thinking ahead to these revenue declines and pricing street usage accurately across all modes now can help create alternative revenue streams that will offset decreased gas tax revenues going forward.

Examples/case studies

Oregon Department of Transportation webpage

Road Usage Charge - VMT-Based User Fee


View - Oregon Department of Transportation

The Oregon Department of Transportation is piloting a voluntary mileage-based road user charge system program that will charge road users for the amount of miles they travel. This program was developed to help create an alternate revenue stream from decreasing gas tax revenue.

Utah's Road Usage Charge Program report page

Road Usage Charge - VMT-Based User Fee

Utah’s Road Usage Charge Program

View - Utah Department of Transportation

Utah’s Department of Transportation is working to instate a program that will charge users of alternative fuel vehicles for the amount of miles they travel. This program will help pay for road infrastructure costs associated with electric and hybrid vehicles that would otherwise be paid by gas taxes.

map of London congestion charging zone

Congestion Mitigation - Cordon Pricing

London congestion charge

View - The Conversation 

This article offers an overview of evolution and impacts of cordon pricing in central London from 2006-2019.

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