Motor carriers and certain other entities (e.g., property brokers) engaged in interstate commerce are required to pay annual registration fees through the Unified Carrier Registration (UCR) program, which fees help fund highway-safety programs and initiatives. In this article, we'll explore the UCR program, including to whom exactly it applies and how the annual fees are calculated.
What is UCR?
In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the UCR Act as part of the highway reauthorization bill known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, A Legacy for Users (“SAFETEA-LU”), Public Law 109-59. The UCR Act established a federally-managed state revenue system, aimed at collecting funds to implement highway-safety programs and initiatives.
UCR is unique in that it is governed by a board of directors that consists of representatives from participating states, private industry, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). UCR is somewhat akin to other state programs such as the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and the International Registration Plan (IRP) in that it is essentially a base-state program, where regulated entities interact with the program through their respective state of domicile. Revenue collected through the UCR program is distributed to participating states and used to fund highway-safety initiatives, such as roadside enforcement.
The UCR Board of Directors oversees administration of the program and publishes rules and guidance to the participating state in its UCR Agreement and UCR Handbook. Participating states are responsible for enforcing UCR requirements against regulated entities that are domiciled within their borders. Each participating state has designated a particular agency that is responsible for enforcing the program.
When UCR was first established, states had the option of participating or not. States that chose not to participate (or states that later elect to drop out) are not permitted to later rejoin. Importantly, regulated entities domiciled in states that have elected not to participate in UCR are still generally subject to the program; enforcement is simply handled by other participating states.
Who is subject to UCR?
Generally speaking, the following types of operations are subject to the UCR program, provided they operate in interstate commerce in the U.S.:
Motor carriers of property, both for-hire and private, whether or not they are considered exempt carriers for purposes of federal regulation;
For-hire passenger motor carriers;
Property brokers; and
Leasing companies that lease vehicles without drivers to interstate motor carriers or freight forwarders.
While the UCR Board is empowered to exempt certain categories of interstate operations, it generally has not done so (with the narrow exception of interstate private passenger carriers). Thus, interstate carriers, freight forwarders, property brokers, and leasing companies are subject to UCR and must pay annual UCR fees.
Notably, since this is a federal program, it generally only encompasses interstate entities, meaning that entities that operate exclusively in intrastate commerce are not subject to the program. The one exception to this is purely intrastate hazmat carrier that haul placardable quantities of hazmat. For UCR purposes, "interstate commerce" is defined fairly broadly to encompass not only cross-border operations but also movements entirely in a single state that are part of a continuous interstate movement.
How are UCR fees calculated?
Regulated entities must pay annual UCR fees. UCR fees are graduated according to the size of a motor carrier or freight forwarder registrant’s fleet. Entities other than motor carriers and freight forwarders that are subject to the UCR program, and that do not operate vehicles, pay at the lowest level of fees. UCR fees are subject to change each year.
Sample UCR Fees
Fleet size calculations
The UCR Handbook includes some important concepts when it comes to calculating fleet size for UCR purposes. First, For purposes of the UCR fee, only power units are countable. Towed units – trailing equipment of various sorts – don’t count. Second, only "commercial motor vehicles" count, and that term is defined to include "A self-propelled vehicle used on the highways in commerce principally to transport passengers or cargo, if the vehicle:
has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater, or when connected to trailing equipment has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater, or
Carries placarded amounts of hazardous materials, regardless of the vehicle’s weight, or
Is designed to carry more than 10 passengers, including the driver.
Third, a carrier's fleet size for UCR purposes must be calculated in one of two ways:
The number the UCR registrant declared it owns or operates on the last Form MCS-150 it filed with the FMCSA, or
The number the UCR registrant owned or operated during the year ending the June 30 before the beginning of the calendar year for which the UCR fee is being determined.
Typically, carriers will use their MCS-150 fleet size when filing their annual UCR registration. Those that use the second method must generally have documents available to demonstrate why their "actual fleet size" differs than that listed on their MCS-150.
Once a carrier determines its fleet size using one of the methods above, it can then make certain optional adjustments to the fleet size as outlined in the UCR Handbook. Notably, carriers can voluntarily choose to include vehicles that otherwise would not be subject to UCR, such as those that don't qualify as "commercial motor vehicles" (e.g., small vehicles) or those that are used exclusively in intrastate commerce. Why would carriers voluntarily choose to include vehicles that would otherwise be excluded? Well, one benefit of UCR registration is that states are generally preempted from imposing any state-specific fees or motor carrier registration requirements on vehicles registered through UCR, but that prohibition does not extend to vehicles not registered through the program. So essentially, carriers may wish to include otherwise exempt vehicles in its UCR registration in order to obtain the preemptive benefit of UCR registration.
When are UCR fees due?
Regulated entities are only required to make one UCR filing per year, meaning that interim changes in their fleet size do not require supplemental filings. The specific deadlines by which UCR registrations and fees are due are set by the UCR Board each year. Generally, the UCR registration period opens in the Fall but is not due until early the following year. Regulated entities file their annual UCR registrations and pay their fees online at https://www.ucr.gov.