Nevada researches 'congestion pricing' as revenue source

CARSON CITY — Nevada has started research on ways of getting people to pay extra if much of their driving is done during rush-hour periods on heavily traveled routes.

The “congestion pricing” research by the Department of Transportation includes a look at electronic devices that can be installed in cars and track where, when and how far people drive. They also would track the type of vehicle, so that heavier and less fuel-efficient cars would pay more.

State Transportation Director Susan Martinovich told legislators on Wednesday that the state has seen a decline in gas tax revenues, and the potential “Vehicle Miles Traveled” program would serve as an alternative source of revenue for the state.

“People have been buying more fuel-efficient cars, which is great for the environment, but those cars are still taking up space, and so we’re looking at another mechanism of trying to be fair to the users,” Martinovich said.

The DOT is working with Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission and the University of Nevada, Reno to study the impacts on that county. They will be looking for volunteer drivers to participate in the research.

“When they start developing this nationally, I want us to be at that table and have a voice,” Martinovich said. “I don’t want the East Coast dictating what works in that measurement for the West Coast.”

The agency will conduct research for the next two years and might propose legislation in 2011. Between now and then, Martinovich said there will be public hearings and other forums to address issues such as privacy rights.

“We don’t want to create a bureaucratic burden, but we still want the people to have a choice and pay for what they actually use,” Martinovich said. “So if they decide to drive on U.S. 395 during the 5 p.m. rush, they’re going to be paying more than if they said, 'Hey, let’s go a different way or go at a different time.’ So they have a choice of how much they pay.”

There are various ways to collect extra money under “congestion pricing” systems, including use of monitoring devices in cars that would transmit data on vehicle use when the cars are refueled. The fuel price would automatically include a fee if the use is at peak times on busy highways. The fee then would be remitted to the state.

Other options could include “lane-charging” tolls that would be electronically collected from drivers’ prepaid accounts or credit cards, or variable tolls that would rise and fall depending on traffic levels.

Another method, now in use in crowded London, is to charge a fee for anyone driving into congested central areas during busy daytime hours.