Mileage based user fee pilot launches
Oregon’s revolutionary Road User Charge Pilot Program (or RUCPP) is now underway. Under the pilot, about 40 volunteers (including legislators, members of the Oregon Transportation Commission, and ODOT staff) are testing the feasibility of an “open” system that allows users to choose among multiple methods and technologies to collect a mileage based user fee.
RUCPP follows a similar pilot conducted by ODOT in 2006-2007 that tested the feasibility of using on-board units including a global positioning system (GPS) device to count miles and pay a per-mile fee at the gas pump. While that pilot proved the feasibility of the system, the public raised privacy concerns about the GPS units and other issues. In response, ODOT worked with the Road User Fee Task Force (RUFTF) to redesign the system to improve public acceptance and address the growing number of alternative fuel vehicles that couldn’t pay at the pump because they never visit a gas station.
In the new system, the government won’t mandate that a specific device or technology be placed in a car. Drivers select among a number of options for collecting data and paying the mileage fee. An open system allows technology already used by consumers to be applied to collecting road user fees, and these technologies will be able to adapt and change over time.
The pilot is giving participants a choice between a smart phone app that interfaces with an on-board unit, an on-board unit without GPS, and a device that uses GPS to exclude miles driven out of state. GPS is entirely optional for participants, but those who want to avoid being charged for miles driven outside of Oregon may choose it. The pilot will determine what works best for the public and inform Oregon’s efforts to build a system that can be deployed.
"This pilot will offer a peek into the future system where motorists will be responsible for choosing how they report their miles, from certified options, and also their account management provider," explained Jim Whitty, Office of Innovative Partnerships Manager at the Oregon Department of Transportation. “It’s critical that we learn what’s needed to create an open system that can adapt and change as technology and the market change.”
ODOT’s development of the mileage based user fee is being watched closely at a national level. Numerous think tanks and blue ribbon commissions—including the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, both of which were chartered by Congress— have identified mileage based user fees as the most likely candidate to succeed the gas tax, and the incoming chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastrucutre Committee recently endorsed the concept.
The gas tax is gradually being eroded by increasing numbers of highly fuel efficient vehicles that pay very little for their use of roads and growing numbers of alternative fuel vehicles—including electric vehicles—that do not pay the gas tax at all. By 2025, when the average new vehicle will get about 50 miles per gallon under new federal fuel efficiency standards, the gas tax will have lost much of its ability to generate revenue to invest in the nation’s surface transportation system.
The pilot program will wrap up in early 2013, and results will be reported to the legislature. The Road User Fee Task Force will be presenting a legislative concept to implement a mileage based user fee for vehicles that get 55 miles per gallon or higher beginning with model year 2015.