It has been nearly six years since a 23-cent-per-gallon increase in the Garden State's tax on gasoline lit up the phone lines and dominated the news cycle at New Jersey 101.5.

With more electric and hybrid vehicles taking to the roads these days, and the newer ones that still run just on gas becoming ever more efficient, the state Department of Transportation believes there may be another way to pump up infrastructure.

"You still have to run on pavement," NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. "You're still running on a surface. So our infrastructure doesn't change because the way the car is powered changes."

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NJDOT is not sure it will work, but is now several phases into a study in conjunction with the Eastern Transportation Coalition that proposes a mileage-based user fee for drivers instead.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti said a pilot program is seeking 400 or more New Jersey drivers to test the theory out.

"If people don't participate and we can't collect the data, then it's not that we don't do it, it's just that we don't know if it'll work," Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. "And so instead of guessing, the idea here is to get enough data collected."

Those who sign up have several options to monitor their mileage, most notably a small device that plugs in near the steering wheel, into a vehicle's diagnostics port, that can be requested with or without GPS technology.

Volunteers would then mail that device back after 60 to 90 days out on the roads.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti took care to ensure drivers that their personal information would not be unwittingly shared.

"All we get is an aggregated sum of miles driven, and hopefully with some who use the GPS function, can understand in-state miles versus out-of-state miles," she said. "You don't see it. It's not in the way, it doesn't bother anything. You really don't know it's there once you plug it in."

Anyone with a car and valid driver's license in the state is eligible to participate, even state employees, though they would not be eligible for a $100 incentive for participating in the pilot.

For more, go to NewJerseyMBUFPilot.com.

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