It's no surprise people are driving less because of the financiapocalypse, leaving the US Department of Transportation rightly worried the Federal Highway Trust Fund could continue to dry up. The solution? A study, of course. We've found a federally-funded study at the University of Iowa looking to fit GPS tracking units onto participant's cars to determine if a pay-per-mile system would be more feasible than the current gas tax. Here's the fun part — if you live in one of the six test cities and you're chosen to participate in the eight-month study, you'll receive $895. Sounds like reasonable compensation for letting Big Brother know your every move. And hey, we can all use the dough at the moment, can't we? Hit the jump to see if you qualify.
University of Iowa Public Policy Center’s Road User Study Background Information History • The Highway Trust Fund supports transportation infrastructure and receives a majority of its money from the motor fuel tax, which is imposed on every gallon of gasoline purchased nationwide. • Over the past ten years, the motor fuel tax has increasingly failed to generate sufficient funds to repair damaged roads and bridges, fill potholes, and maintain the safe and efficient operation of our highway system. Improved fuel efficiency of the nation’s vehicle fleet is the main reason. • The University of Iowa Public Policy Center has been awarded a $16-million federal grant to study a new approach to financing the nation’s roadways. The system, which uses on-board computers, may one day replace the gas tax. About the Study • Over the next two years, the Public Policy Center will conduct a national field test of the system in six cities across the U.S., including San Diego, CA; Austin, TX; Baltimore, MD; the Research Triangle in North Carolina; Boise, ID; and Eastern Iowa. Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, the Quad Cities, and many small towns in eastern Iowa will be among the sites included in this groundbreaking national test. • The Iowa study tests an approach that will allow drivers to pay only for the actual number of miles they travel. A small computer will be installed in participants’ vehicles to store a record of these miles. The total amount owed will then be uploaded to a central database, much like what is used by credit card companies, which will then distribute funds to the states, counties or cities in which the travel took place. • The privacy of motorists’ participating in the study will be strictly protected by providing an identification number to each participant, rather than using personal information and at the end of the study all documents containing personal information of the participant will be destroyed. • It is likely that acceptability of the new approach will depend to a large extent on perceptions regarding privacy. In the maximum-privacy configuration, it is significant that the only figure that can be tied to a particular vehicle is a single dollar amount for total user charges that are due. When data are transferred from the vehicle to the network operating center, these data are encrypted to assure anonymity. It is not necessary to know which vehicle generated a particular sum of user charge for each jurisdiction; all that is required is the amount to be apportioned to each of the jurisdictions. This approach maximizes user privacy and ensures a fair distribution of revenue. • There remains an issue of audit-ability, however. The OBC can be configured to provide the user with a detailed record of charges. While this record would enable the vehicle’s owner to understand the exact basis for the user charges in billing statements, it is possible that the detailed record could be subpoenaed in criminal or civil cases involving the owner of a vehicle. The OBC can be configured to allow the owner to choose between privacy maximization versus having substantiation of user charges. Because the trade-off between privacy protection and audit-ability is one of the key issues we are addressing in this national evaluation study, we will enable participants to experience each method during the course of the field-testing. • Prescreened and selected participants of the study will have the on-board computer temporarily installed in their vehicles. This installation will not in any way damage the vehicle. The computer will store a record of charges accrued from road use. Research Goals 1. Appropriateness of the technology. Test the reliability, security, flexibility, user-friendliness and cost-effectiveness of on-board computers (GPS and GIS); 2. User acceptability. Evaluate driver acceptance of such a system; and 3. Find out why vehicle operators accept or reject the system, what they like and what they don’t.(Hat tip to Drew!) [Source: University of Iowa Public Policy Center]