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October 25, 2022Episode 44. Sharing the Load on Texas Roads: Are overweight trucks paying their fair share?
FEATURING: Brianne Glover
Big trucks cause more damage to transportation infrastructure, but they pay less to use roads and bridges than passenger vehicles do. New research findings – with input from the freight industry – can inform how policy makers might change that.
About Our Guest
Brianne Glover is manager of TTI's Infrastructure Investment Analysis Program. She is also an attorney and counselor at law licensed to practice in Texas. Brianne has been involved with numerous research projects for various sponsors that focus on transportation financing, as well as the economic impacts associated with transportation improvements.
Bernie Fette (host) (00:14):
Hello and welcome. This is Thinking Transportation. Conversations about how we get ourselves and the things we need from one place to another. I’m Bernie Fette with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Bernie Fette (00:30):
Big trucks maintain a constant presence on our transportation network, but unless they get in our way or they’re late in delivering something to us, we typically don’t think about them. We don’t consider, for instance, that pound for pound, they pay less to use the roads and bridges than our passenger cars do. That disparity can raise questions, making the big truck / small car relationship a bit complicated. We’re going to unwrap it a bit today with some help from Brianne Glover, a research scientist at TTI. Good morning, Brianne. Thanks for sharing some of your time with us.
Brianne Glover (guest) (01:08):
Sure, happy to.
Bernie Fette (01:10):
Well, we’re talking to you about trucks today. One of those things that in daily life most of us don’t think much about. But you’ve been thinking about them quite a bit lately, haven’t you?
Brianne Glover (01:22):
Yes. Trucks and the big oversized trucks as well.
Bernie Fette (01:27):
Okay. When we see your name listed on the TTI website, you have letters behind your name — J.D. So you’re an attorney?
Brianne Glover (01:37):
Yes. I went to law school and I am licensed in Texas. Though I don’t typically practice; just research.
Bernie Fette (01:43):
Okay. I’m curious. In what part of law school did you start studying the trucking industry?
Brianne Glover (01:51):
<laugh>, No trucking industry in law school. But before law school I did work for a civil engineering firm and so when I got out of law school I thought this is something I’m familiar with and I tried to sort of merge the two.
Bernie Fette (02:03):
So I should note here for the benefit of our listeners, that you’re also an expert then in the economics of transportation — infrastructure investment analysis, to be more precise. Can you help us get started here with a little background? Maybe help us understand what place the trucking industry has in our economy and in our daily lives?
Brianne Glover (02:28):
Sure. So you know, you see trucks out there every day when you’re on your way to work, when you’re running errands and you don’t really think about them, but they are moving constantly. They’re bringing goods to stores, they’re bringing goods to your home. They’re bringing goods to other manufacturers that may use a part to produce some other good. And so trucks, they support a ton of major industries and a lot of them, especially here in Texas.
Bernie Fette (02:56):
So they’re important to put it mildly. Our economy, our daily lives depend on trucks. We can’t do without ’em. Every vehicle on the road pays in some way to use the roads, but trucks don’t pay as much compared to cars and I’m probably oversimplifying there. So can you explain a little bit for us about how it’s really more complex than that?
Brianne Glover (03:20):
Yeah, so there are a lot of different revenues that are collected that help pay for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges in Texas. And some of those we classify as user fees. And those are things like fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees. You’ve got things that are related to trucks like oversize and overweight permit fees. So every time one of those large trucks, you know, you see with the big banner on the back of it that says oversized going down the highway. Every trip they make, they have to have a permit for. So if it’s a single trip, like they’re just moving a windmill blade, you know, across the state they buy a single permit. There are some companies that, that that’s all they do is move these big heavy trucks and move big things on the roads and so they could get an annual permit or even a quarterly permit. And so there’s fees that are associated with those as well. So all of those are sort of user fees that go into transportation. I would say also that if you look at the total of those fees, the portion that are allotted to trucks is smaller because there are less trucks on the road than there are passenger vehicles.
Bernie Fette (04:34):
Okay. And you talked about the fees that the trucks pay, the rest of us driving passenger cars pay for motor fuel tax. Can you explain for us what has been happening more broadly and which I guess provides some of the background for why you even did this study to start with. What is the transportation finance picture looking like in Texas right now?
Brianne Glover (04:58):
Texas’s transportation revenues are actually fairly healthy since the mid-2010s. They instituted the Proposition One and Proposition Seven revenues. So these are things like oil and gas tax revenues and sales tax revenues that go to transportation. But they’re not typically considered user fees cuz they’re not directly associated with, you know, the use of the road. But for this analysis, so the Legislature asked, um, TxDOT and TTI and CTR to look into — okay, we have these revenues but how do they relate to the cost to use the road? So we’ve got these trucks and these big oversized trucks and passenger vehicles that are moving on the roads and there’s a damage cost that’s associated with those movements. You know, with the, the driving that happens.
Bernie Fette (05:52):
So no surprise trucks that weigh 80,000 pounds-plus are gonna cause more damage than a typical passenger car. Right?
Brianne Glover (06:00):
Yes, definitely. And not just for the roads, for the bridges as well. There’s a cost associated with that.
Bernie Fette (06:05):
Okay. What exactly did the Legislature ask for in this study that you are wrapping up right now?
Brianne Glover (06:12):
Yeah, they asked us to look at three different categories of vehicles. So we split them into passenger vehicles and we looked at commercial motor vehicles. So that’s your, your typical 18-wheeler that’s out there on the road.
Bernie Fette (06:23):
Brianne Glover (06:23):
And then we looked at the third category, which is those oversized/overweight vehicles. So the the really heavy trucks. And so what they wanted to know was what is the cost associated with the damage that those vehicles do in each of those categories, but then also what are the revenues that can be associated with each of those categories too. And so we compare the cost and the revenues to figure out, okay, an oversized truck is costing us this much in damage and they’re bringing in this much in revenue. How does that compare? Is there a gap? Are they paying too much? Are they paying too little? What does that look like?
Bernie Fette (07:00):
Okay, you’ve heard of elevator speeches, so I’m going to ask you for your elevator speech to describe what you learned in this study. But there’s a catch. The elevator, right, is only three floors <laugh>. So in a nutshell, what did you learn? And then we can maybe go into a little bit more detail in each of the specific areas that you studied. And for the record, as you’ve reminded me, this study is not absolutely final just yet, but you do have some general insights that you’ve gathered, do you not?
Brianne Glover (07:32):
Yeah, the big takeaways are that, not surprising, commercial trucks and oversized trucks have more damage cost associated with them than revenues. So there is a loss there. There is a deficit.
Bernie Fette (07:47):
So when you say that there’s a deficit, generally that means that the state is losing money there?
Brianne Glover (guest) (07:53):
Yes. But if we look at passenger vehicles, they still bring in a lot of revenue as well.
Bernie Fette (07:59):
Brianne Glover (08:00):
The other cost that we looked at in this study was congestion costs as well. Now that is not a cost that is born by the state, that’s a user cost. So when we talk about congestion costs, that’s the cost of delay to the driver, the fuel cost out of pocket. So while not a state cost, it’s still a very big cost that is out there. And so a lot of those remaining revenues that we associated with passenger vehicles, they do get used to help alleviate congestion in the state as well.
Bernie Fette (08:30):
And you also looked at pavement and bridge conditions separately or as, as one of the sub areas in addition to traffic congestion. What did you find there?
Brianne Glover (08:39):
Yes, and that was where the deficit for the trucks came in. We found that commercial trucks and oversize/overweight trucks do about $2.2 billion in consumption cost. That’s the term that’s used. And consumption cost is typically how we describe the cost to repair the damage, the maintenance cost and the construction cost that’s associated with the damage from these vehicles.
Bernie Fette (09:07):
I’ve read the report and there’s a huge amount of cost information. There’s a lot of numbers in your report. So for the benefit of people who don’t have that report in front of them and would be challenged in understanding it, can you give us some really high-altitude numbers to describe what you have learned in terms of that damage to the roadways?
Brianne Glover (09:31):
Sure. So for commercial vehicles, you know your typical 18-wheeler that we were talking about, their consumption cost, um, is more than $2 billion. For the overweight vehicles, their consumption cost is a little less than $300 million annually.
Bernie Fette (09:47):
And that compares with what you call consumption costs or damage costs from other vehicles, from passenger vehicles. How does that compare?
Brianne Glover (09:56):
Actually passenger vehicles, it’s minimal. They don’t really do that sort of damage to the road.
Bernie Fette (10:02):
Where does that take you?
Brianne Glover (10:04):
So that left us with this gap — this deficit that we mentioned earlier, that the revenue associated with each of those vehicles wasn’t enough to meet the consumption cost that we found. The Legislature also asked in the study that we look at, okay well what are some possible cost recovery fee scenarios? That means okay, we have these current fees that we collect fees and taxes for transportation revenues. Could we change some of the ones that we already have? Could we raise them, could we alter them to help cover that gap? Or are there new fees maybe that we haven’t looked at that could be instituted to help cover that gap as well?
Bernie Fette (10:45):
So you came up with a handful of different options for policy makers in Texas. Is there a way that you can describe those for us briefly?
Brianne Glover (10:54):
Sure. So the one that is the most direct would be those permit fees that we talked about, the oversize/overweight permit fees. So we could offer up a suggestion to maybe alter those. You could do it blanket, so all of the types of permit fees could be raised or you could say, okay, let’s make the annual fees a little higher than the single-trip fees. There’s a bunch of different combinations that we could offer up. So that first one was altering the permit fees. Another possible option would be to look at vehicle registration fees. So in in Texas, vehicle registration fees are by weight. Passenger vehicles are typically, you know, 10,000 pounds or less, 6,000 pounds or less, somewhere in there. And they have a certain state portion of the fee associated with them. So in Texas that’s $50.75 if you drive a passenger vehicle. But when you are a truck, your vehicle registration fee goes up by weight. The heavier you are, the more you pay annually in your vehicle registration. So we offered up some suggestions on maybe raising that fee, what that might look like, an additional $10, $25, $50 as the weights change. So those were the two fees that were the most closely associated with the actual vehicles by weight.
Bernie Fette (12:14):
Brianne Glover (12:14):
A couple of other options that we suggested were things like a vehicle miles traveled fee. That is where you pay a certain fee per mile. And that could be just for trucks or that could be all vehicles including passenger vehicles as well.
Bernie Fette (12:32):
And that concept would be new in Texas but not necessarily new nationwide because there are at least a few states that are at least in the pilot testing phase of that mileage fee that you’re talking about.
Brianne Glover (12:43):
Correct. Yeah. There are several states, some on the east coast and some on the west coast as well that have done pilots to look at what kind of fees they could collect and how to administer that fee as well, how to collect it and any costs associated with that.
Bernie Fette (12:56):
And again, at the risk of oversimplifying, when you’re talking about a mileage fee, that would work in the same way that we pay for electricity, right? You know, it’s a unit cost and we pay for as much as we actually use.
Brianne Glover (13:09):
Yes, exactly. And you can vary those fees for those different vehicle categories as well. You know, a truck can pay a larger price per mile than a passenger vehicle.
Bernie Fette (13:20):
Brianne Glover (13:21):
And the last one that we looked at was a weight distance tax. And that’s very similar to a VMT fee where it’s based on weight and the distance that you drive. There are four states that currently have those: Kentucky, New York, New Mexico, and Oregon.
Bernie Fette (13:35):
I think the obvious question here would be what’s next? I’m not necessarily asking you for a prediction. I can see that if you have a crystal ball, you have it hidden. I don’t see it anywhere around your desk. So what comes next after you have laid out this menu of options for policy makers in Texas?
Brianne Glover (13:54):
Well then it’s up to them. It’ll be in their hands to decide if they want to change a fee or if they wanna even look into some sort of pilot or start thinking about a new fee or even the administration that goes along with that. As part of this whole process, we actually included folks from industry. So we had trucking groups and other industry reps who were associated with the trucking industry and we ran a lot of this by them and we talked to them about how we were doing this study and sort of what we’re finding because we want their buy-in as well, we wanna know their thoughts. And so you know, we’re including with this report to the Legislature a lot of the discussion that we’ve had with them as well so that everybody knows what we’re talking about and what these fees might look like. And so they have a chance to weigh in as well.
Bernie Fette (14:44):
And as you said, any actions that might come from this are much more likely to have universal buy-in from all the, the different parties that are involved.
Brianne Glover (14:53):
Sure. I mean, and nobody wants to pay more. Nobody wants a fee increase, but at least people will understand the reason that we need one or the research that went into determining what those should be.
Bernie Fette (15:05):
I’m curious about what kind of reactions you got from those stakeholder groups whenever you were doing this research because this is an issue that is not brand new. We’ve had heavy trucks perhaps over many years creating the extra damage to the highways that you’ve been talking about and studying. So this is nothing new. Was there anything in the conversations that you had with the stakeholders that you found to be surprising or that they found to be surprising?
Brianne Glover (15:33):
So I think the gap was not as big as they thought it might be. And I think that has a lot to do with those non-user revenues that we included as well. Your Proposition One and your Proposition Seven revenues because those have really helped to bolster transportation revenues in Texas. And so I think that helps lower that deficit that we’re finding for trucks. And so I think that that was a pleasant finding for the industry folks.
Bernie Fette (16:01):
You think that they might have been going into these discussions expecting to hear worse news than they actually heard?
Brianne Glover (16:07):
I think so. I think cuz if you were to only look at the user fees, you know your vehicle registration fees and your permit fees and your fuel tax fees, then that gap would be a lot bigger. But I mean if you look, these proposition revenues are specifically used for construction and maintenance in Texas and while they do have an end date –Proposition One, I think sunsets in 2034 and Proposition 7, 2029 if they’re not extended, they are bringing revenues currently to Texas for construction and maintenance.
Bernie Fette (16:41):
What have I not asked you about that you wish that I would’ve asked you about?
Brianne Glover (16:46):
So I will say as part of this study, we looked at the economic impacts that you mentioned in the beginning of trucking in Texas. And it was really surprising. I mean, trucks support major industries in Texas to the tune of nearly half a trillion dollars in economic output. And that is a huge number when you, when you think about it.
Bernie Fette (17:07):
Yeah. Wow. I think I asked you this also the last time that you did an episode for us. What is it that keeps you getting up and coming to work every day?
Brianne Glover (17:17):
I think what keeps me coming in every day is the people that I work with. I have such a great group and especially for this study, we each kind of took a different topic. I looked at revenues. Jackie Kuzio in our group looked at the economics. We all kind of took a different perspective on each of these issues and were able to just really come up with some new ways to look at things. And so I think that just having those people who can make you think differently about how we do things just really makes it great to work every day.
Bernie Fette (17:51):
And you must love puzzles too. I’m guessing you probably like jigsaw puzzles too, cuz this seems like a study that comes as close to being a jigsaw puzzle as any that I’m familiar with.
Brianne Glover (18:01):
It definitely was. Trying to match up and make things fit. It was definitely a challenge.
Bernie Fette (18:08):
Brianne Glover, research scientist at TTI, licensed attorney and expert in the economics of the trucking industry. Thank you, Brianne. We really appreciate you sharing your time with us.
Brianne Glover (18:18):
Bernie Fette (18:21):
Nearly everything that comes to us each day spends some time on a truck. So trucking’s contribution to our lives and our economy can hardly be overstated. In short, trucks deliver for us in a very big way. What’s also big is the amount of wear and tear they inflict on the roads compared to smaller vehicles. That’s especially true for the trucks classified as oversize or overweight. But the findings from new research could help to bring greater balance to how all vehicles pay their fair share to travel throughout Texas. Thanks for listening. Next time, we’ll visit with Rafael Aldrete to talk about US-Mexico border crossings, and how multiple parties work to balance security, economy and mobility at those international entry points. Please do join us for that conversation. And if you would, please, give us a review, subscribe and share this episode. Thinking Transportation is a production of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, a member of the Texas A&M University System. The show is edited and produced by Chris Pourteau. I’m your writer and host, Bernie Fette. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.