At this Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, elected officials will consider spending approximately $300,000 on a study that will provide support for the establishment of a new tax based on vehicle miles traveled. The tax is called a mobility fee.
The cost of the study would be shared with the Leon County Board of County Commissioners.
The new idea, which is being considered in different formats around the country, is designed to provide a regulatory tool which will give policy makers the ability to direct and control growth.
In addition, the approach is also seen as a way to increase revenue for transportation infrastructure. Over the last 15 years, the collection of revenue from gasoline taxes has declined due to increasing fuel efficiency in automobiles.
Based on the documents provided by City staff, it appears the mobility fee approach appeals to Leon County and the City of Tallahassee as a way to direct growth into desired areas.
The agenda item, written by City staff, explained to City elected officials that a “countywide mobility fee which focuses development into designated growth areas has the potential to better support City and County infill goals.”
What are the community’s infill goals?
Considering the policies recently adopted by elected officials which include financial incentives to drive student housing closer to downtown and the multi-modal growth management concept, the infill goals would seem to be to move development closer to downtown.
A Florida mobility study, completed by government and university experts in 2009, concluded that “Modifying the standard impact fee equation to increase sensitivity to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) will reward developments that locate in or near urban centers and those that offer a balanced mix of uses with lower fees.”
The practical approach employed in other jurisdictions is to divide the city or county into districts and to create mobility fees that penalize growth in rural areas and reward growth closer to the urban core.
One of the challenges for a mobility fee approach in Leon County will be to determine if development around commerce centers to the north, like Bannerman Crossings, or to the east, in the Buck Lake area, are rural and therefore should be penalized through higher mobility fees.
Another approach to collecting VMT taxes focuses on the individual and includes the use of GPS technology. Under this approach, GPS technology is used to identify vehicle locations and user fees are based on local taxes, time of day, and traffic congestion.
For example, people traveling during high traffic times would pay more than someone running errands in the middle of the day.
How would revenue be collected?
Onboard transponders would communicate directly with motorists as they enter new zones, including premium rate zones and offload VMT data through low-cost roadside hotspots at traffic signals, toll plazas, fuel pumps and other mobile commerce sites where billing is automatic.
This approach has recently been piloted in Oregon.
Why are the City and the County considering a mobility fee now?
The agenda item explained that “an opportunity exists now to develop and implement a mobility fee system. There is adequate guidance in existing statutes and through successful mobility fee systems that are being operated in other Florida communities. Additionally, an upward trending economic market provides a favorable climate for its development and implementation.”
We will follow the discussion on this issue at the next City Commission meeting.