Oregon’s Pay Per Milage Program Offers Alternative to Gas Tax
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
As an initiative of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the program is based on a “pay for what you use” policy and aims to boost the projected dwindling state funds for road maintenance, preservation and improvements.
For almost a century, Oregon roads have been funded by fuel taxes. But with the emergence of more fuel-efficient cars on roadways, the traditional means of generating revenue could be made redundant, according to ODOT.
At the end of 2014, 3.3 million passenger cars were registered in Oregon. Of them, 68,000 were hybrid, 3,500 electric and 620 were plug-in hybrids.
These vehicles make up a little more than 2 percent of all passenger cars on Oregon roads. But that does not take into account fossil fueled vehicles with high miles per gallon (mpg) – which are the most concerning for ODOT.
“There are vehicles that are consuming the road and are not contributing to the system because they’re not paying fuel tax,” said Michelle Godfrey, Public Information Officer at ODOT. “The gas tax is becoming obsolete given that the modern car gets high mpg.”
With the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) aiming to hit the 54.5 mpg standard by 2025, “that’s going to be a major impact to the collection of fuel tax. OReGO is an attempt to come up with an alternative before we get into a dire straits situation,” continued Godfrey.
Today, Oregonians pay 30 cents per gallon in fuel taxes. The road usage charge program could eventually replace that tax as a source of road maintenance funds. So testing its potential success is the first step.
But with niche technology, alongside skepticism from hybrid and electric car drivers, ODOT might have a tougher time recruiting volunteers than once believed.
Who wants to participate?
OReGO volunteers will continue to pay the gas tax every time they fill-up, in addition to paying 1.5 cents per mile they drive. At the end of each month, they will either be charged an additional fee or receive a credit to offset the fuel taxes paid at the pump.
But critics of the program believe OReGO provides incentive only to owners of gas-guzzling vehicles – for instance, with 20 mpg or less – who would likely receive the credit.
As Godfrey said, the existing fuel tax “un-fairly burdens those individuals who have lower mpg vehicles.”
Conversely, drivers of hybrids or fuel-efficient cars will end up paying the additional fee.
But that’s the whole idea.
“Ultimately, we would want to have those high mpg vehicles in the program so they can start contributing their share,” said Godfrey.
“I’ve never received a tax credit in Oregon for driving a fuel-efficient car, so I don’t believe I should pay more than my normal contribution at the pump,” said Goodfellow.
“If this program became mandatory, I think it would unfairly target environmentally-friendly vehicles, simply because they use the same roads as SUVs and other obsolete transportation,” he said.
To date, ODOT has received “sign-ups” from around 2,500 interested drivers, with 78 percent of them expressing their intent to enroll.
Committed to selecting 5,000 volunteers come July 1st, ODOT still requires double the participants.
But OReGO is not completely in its infancy. Back in 2012, they launched the Road Usage Charge Pilot Program, as a first-phase test.
Among its volunteers was Democratic Representative Tobias Read of District 27, which comprises parts of Beaverton and southwest Portland.
Read enrolled with a 2003 Audi Sedan. His mileage was tracked and at the end of three months he owed $1.20 to ODOT. But that’s no bother to him.
“The incentive is to have a transportation system that works and there are roads and bridges on which to drive,” said Read.
He’s since moved on to an electric car and still plans to sign up for July’s program.
“It’s not fair that I’m driving around and not contributing to the cost of the infrastructure on which I’m relying,” he said. “The gas tax is just a proxy for the driver’s impact on the road. We can be much more precise in assessing that impact through a road use charge.”
But others are not as easily swayed, especially in Portland – the city with the least number of commuters and one of the most bike-friendly in the nation.
“I don’t actually use my car to commute,” said Goodfellow. “My hybrid vehicle was much more expensive than a standard fossil-fueled car, so you can understand why I’m not singing up to pay more money when I barely use the roads.”
Shea, who declined to offer his last name, is a Portland resident who does commute – a hefty 200 miles per week to work. Still, he’s not incentivized by OReGO.
“As someone who doesn't itemize deductions and credits on my tax return, I don't think it would appeal much to me personally,” he said.
The connected car
To run the program, ODOT has partnered with three vendors, Azuga, Verizon Telematics and ODOT/Sanef, which will provide tracking devices to record the mileage.
Volunteers will plug their chosen device into their vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port.
The device will then collect data on their speed, mileage, fuel usage and other emissions-related information. But to protect location privacy, only mileage data will be shared with ODOT.
It’s all part of the connected car, according to ODOT and its partners.
“Our goal is to help people connect with their cars in a manner that has, until now, only been available to vehicles with embedded systems,” said Azuga’s Nate Bryer, VP of Innovation and Marketing.
“Every car on the road is continuously generating oodles of data that goes untapped,” continued Bryer. “We refer to this as ‘digital exhaust,’ which is data that can tell you about your driving style and how that driving style affects efficiency and safety.”
Connected car features – which even extend to “gamify” one’s car to compete with other drivers on efficiency – are marketed as incentives for drivers of hybrid or fuel-efficient cars.
As the program stands, purely electric cars are unable to enroll in the program, as their data port is currently incompatible with those offered by the vendors.
OReGO is being implemented as a long-term program, with no end date until the legislature assesses its worth to funding state roads.
Interested drivers can visit OReGO’s site to calculate how much they would be credited, or owe, based on their miles and their vehicle’s mpg.
The 1.5 cents per-mile-rate will likely to be adjusted for heavier vehicles that cause more wear and tear on the roads, such as cargo trucks, which many Oregonians say should pay more to maintain roads.
Related Slideshow: Slideshow: 20 of Oregon’s Strangest Laws
Portland prides itself on being strange, but the rest of Oregon gives the city a run for its money when it comes to unusual legislation. Here are 20 of Oregon's strangest laws.
Racing at drive-in restaurants prohibited
A Eugene city code states no person on the premises of a drive-in restaurant, bank, theater, business, or public parking facility shall needlessly "race the motor of any motor vehicle."
The code also prohibits suddenly stopping a motor vehicle and using a horn for any reason other than as a reasonable warning.
Permit required for social games in Portland
A Portland city code requires any person playing a social game in a private business, private club, or place of public accomodation to first obtain a permit.
Such a permit must be applied for on a location-by-location basis, and cannot be transferred to another location, but is valid for one year.
Owning more than 25 'sexually intact' dogs prohibited
It is against the law to own or be in charge of more than 25 sexually intact dogs aged four months or older. The law further prohibits owning more than 50 sexually intact dogs aged two years or older for the purpose of reproduction.
Violators face a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $2,500 fine, or both.
Leaving a container of urine on a highway prohibited
Under the state's statute addressing the improper disposal of human waste, a person is in violation if he or she "throws, puts or otherwise leaves a container of urine or other human waste on or beside the highway."
The offense is a class A misdemeanor.
No flying kites with tinsel
Flying a kite containing any metal, wire or tinsel string on either the kite or the kite string is unlawful in Salem.
Furthermore, "it shall be unlawful for any person to fly any kite in such a manner that the kite, kite tail, or kite string will come within fifty feet of any power line, measured on a horizontal plane. Removing the kite from a power line, should it become entangled, is also illegal.
Drivers must yield to pedestrians standing on sidewalk
Motor vehicle operators commit the offense of failure to yield to a pedestrian on a sidewalk if he or she does not give the right of way to a pedestrian standing on a sidewalk in Oregon.
The offense is a Class B traffic violation.
Showing minors art with nudity illegal
Showing a painting, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture, film or any other visual representation that depicts nudity, sadomasochistic abuse, sexual conduct or sexual excitement constitutes furnishing obscene materials to a minor in Oregon.
A book, magazine, pamphlet or audio recording depicting narrative accounts of nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement is also in violation of the state law.
55 mph truck speed limit
Oregon is the only state west of the Mississippi with a maximum speed limit of 65 mph for vehicles, and 55 mph for trucks. All other Western states, save for Washington and California, have maximum speed limits of at least 75 miles per hour for vehicles.
Analyzing and giving advice is illegal in Yamhill County
An "Occult Arts" code in Yamhill County forbids that anyone "analyze or define the character of a person or personality," or "give advice or information concerning any matter or event."
The law also forbids fortune-telling, analyzing past events, and locating stolen or lost property through occult means.
No raffling less than 12 baby birds
A City of Eugene ordinance prohibits selling or raffling off a baby chick, duckling, gosling or rabbit that has been dyed or otherwise colored artificially.
Baby chicks, ducklings and goslings younger than four weeks of age
may not be sold or offered for sale, raffled or offered as a prize in quantities fewer than 12.
Lying down on the floor of a restroom prohibited
Under the City of Portland's Misuse of a Public Restroom legislation, "it is unlawful to stand, climb, sit upon, or lay down on any fixture or floor located inside of or at the entrance of any restroom located in a public building or on public property, unless that fixture or floor is intended to be used for standing, climbing, sitting or lying upon."
No carrying children on the running board or fender
A person commits the state-wide offense of carrying a minor on an external part of a motor vehicle if the person carries any person under 18 years of age upon the hood, fender, running board or other external part of any motor vehicle that is upon a highway.
Miniature horses qualify as service animals
A miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability -- including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability -- may also be considered a service animal in Eugene.
No carnivals for profit
In Eugene, no person shall sponsor, operate, set-up, conduct or carry on a carnival within the city except an amateur carnival conducted by a school, or a religious or charitable organization. No carnival shall be operated for more than one day, and all proceeds must benefit educational, religious or charitable purposes.
No pulling weeds in a parking lot
A Salem law states it shall be unlawful for any person to in any manner cut, break, remove, or otherwise mutilate or destroy any tree, shrub, flower, or other plant, or any part thereof, growing in any parking space, public park, square, opening, street, or alley without first having obtained the permission therefor from the Director, or, growing upon private grounds or premises, the permission of the owner thereof.