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Would a mileage based user fee hit rural residents harder?
 
Oregon and other states have been exploring the possibility of migrating toward a mileage based user fee to address the loss of revenue as more fuel efficient vehicles hit the road.  One of the main concerns raised is that rural residents drive more miles and thus would pay more under a fee based on vehicle miles traveled.  Because we’ve heard this concern frequently, ODOT decided to look into this issue in greater depth and commissioned a research report. 
 
So what did the report find?
 
Jim Whitty, who has led ODOT’s efforts, said the analysis found that rural residents wouldn’t be unfairly impacted by a VMT fee.  “The report showed that rural residents wouldn’t be disadvantaged, because they generally don’t actually drive much more than urban residents,” said Whitty.  “What’s more, rural drivers tend not to drive highly efficient vehicles-- like electric cars—and thus would not be in the road usage charge system that has been proposed.  Rural Oregonians may very well stay with the current gas tax for the foreseeable future.”
 
Key conclusions of the report:
 
·         Based on self-reported mileage, there is no significant difference in the average distance driven per year between urban and rural residents. Although rural residents tend to drive longer distances for typical errands such as grocery or clothes shopping, school, and medical appointments, they also tend to engage in such trips less frequently than their urban counterparts.  When looking strictly at miles driven on Oregon public roads (which is likely all that would be taxed), rural households drive fewer miles than their counterparts in urban areas.
 
·         Based on data from ODOT’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division (DMV), rural residents tend to drive less fuel-efficient vehicles than their urban counterparts. On the other hand, they tend to drive in conditions conducive to better fuel efficiency.  Urban residents are far more likely to drive highly fuel efficient vehicles today and more likely to purchase highly fuel efficient vehicles in the near future than their counterparts in mixed or rural counties.
 
The report concludes that “Despite perceptions that a road usage charge is unfair to rural residents, the data collected and analyzed for this study reveal that rural residents, on average, will not be affected adversely in any significant way by a road usage charge—financially, behaviorally, or technologically.”
 
The report is available online.