After several years of study, the Washington State Transportation Commission will test a pay-per-mile tax system, called a road-usage charge, beginning in early 2018. A road-usage charge asks drivers to pay for the miles they drive in Washington, rather than by the gallons of gas they use.
The pilot study does not mean the state will eventually adopt a road usage charge approach; such a move would require legislative action that is likely years away. But the study will provide valuable information to that future discussion.
Transportation experts said the gasoline tax is becoming an increasingly unreliable source for funding transportation needs in Washington and across the country.
“As the fuel efficiency of vehicles increases, gas consumption decreases and this equates to a reduction in gas tax revenues over time. The gas tax serves as the major source of funding for building and maintaining our state highways and ferries,” Commission Chairman Jerry Litt said.
Vehicle gas mileage continues to increase with improved technology and federal mandates, which means less money will be collected for roads as time passes.
Washington’s current vehicle fleet averages 20.5 miles per gallon, according to the commission’s figures. The federal government is mandating an average fuel mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Below are FAQs prepared by the Washington State Transportation Commission. For more info visit the road-usage charge website.
Why is Washington conducting the pilot?
To ensure sustainable, long-term funding: As vehicles become more fuel-efficient, gas consumption goes down. With a decline in gas consumption comes reduced gas-tax revenues needed for our roads, bridges and ferry system. A road-usage charge could provide a more stable source of transportation funding than the gas tax, since drivers would pay by the mile instead of by the gallon.
To ensure everyone pays their fair share: Considering the range of MPG of today’s vehicles on the road, the gas tax has become inequitable. For the same miles driven, drivers pay widely different amounts for their roadway use, depending on their vehicle’s MPG. This inequity is expected to grow each year as vehicle MPG continues to increase.
Will the road usage charge be an additional tax?
No. The road usage charge is being considered as a replacement to the gas tax, not on top of or in addition to the gas tax.
Is a road-usage charge unfair compared to the gas tax?
No. A road-usage charge system would tax everyone at the same rate per mile driven on public roads in Washington regardless of a vehicle’s MPG. Today, people who use vehicles with lower MPG pay more gas tax because they purchase more gas as compared to drivers of high MPG vehicles (over 20 MPG).
What happens if I drive out of state?
In a future road-usage charge system, the intent is that drivers would only pay for miles they drive in Washington. The pilot will help us determine how drivers would best record mileage in and out of Washington state.
Can miles be reported without using GPS data?
Yes. Pilot-project participants will get to pick how they record their mileage from four options: a mileage permit, odometer readings, an automated mileage meter or smartphone app. Each of these methods will require a different mechanism for recording and reporting data. The mileage permit and odometer reading approaches do not require any technology or GPS to utilize.
How much will a road-usage charge cost me each year?
Assuming the average vehicle travels 12,000 miles per year, this breaks down to 1,000 miles traveled per month. If we apply the road-usage charge pilot’s rate of 2.4 cents per mile, this equates to a total of $24 per month, or $288 on an annual basis. Currently, drivers pay an average of $289.17 a year under the gas tax.
Are other states interested in road-usage charging?
Yes. Oregon began a voluntary road-usage charge program in 2015 and has approximately 1,000 participants. California has completed a nine-month road-usage charging pilot program with approximately 5,000 volunteers.