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Pilot study determined feasibility of road-usage charge

A pilot project to determine the feasibility of, and study approaches to, a road-usage charge (RUC) has been completed. The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) was recently given a presentation on the pilot study. The WSTC will make recommendations on a RUC to the Legislature in December. It is expected that any transition to a RUC will not be immediate. See the Road-Usage Charge website here.

In 2012, the legislature directed the commission to assess the potential of a RUC to replace the gas tax. RUC is a per mile charge drivers would pay for the use of the roads, as opposed to paying by the gallon of gas.

The commission has determined that road usage charging is feasible and that over time it can generate more revenue than the gas tax, as cars become more fuel efficient. To test how such a system could work in Washington and evaluate different ways of recording and reporting mileage, more than 2,000 Washington drivers participated in the year-long Washington RUC pilot project. With the conclusion of the pilot, the commission is now ready to report on its findings, including the RUC experience of other states.

AGC is monitoring the RUC study, as it recognizes that, because gasoline is taxed by the gallon, as vehicles become more fuel efficient or switch to electric power, gas tax revenue will decline. AGC is adamant, however, that a RUC receive the same protections that the gas tax does. The 18th Amendment to the State Constitution says gas tax revenue must be used for highway purposes, which prevents gas tax revenues from being siphoned off by the Legislature for other uses.  AGC maintains that any RUC receive similar protection.

Also, while it is the intention of proponents of RUC to replace, not be in addition to, the gas tax, the reality will be a bit more complicated.

An RUC couldn’t be a simple dollar-for-dollar swap for the gas tax, as much gas tax revenue is currently paying off existing bond obligations and will be doing so for years.  One option that has been discussed to address this is to have both RUC and bond-committed gas taxes on the books and provide a rebate to drivers for gas taxes paid. However, no final decisions have been made.

Another certainty is that RUC enforcement will remain one of the top challenges for implementation, possibly by the state Department of Licensing. Among the issues left to be decided is what tracking methods drivers will use or be allowed to use, ranging from nonintrusive permits to smartphone apps. Although some of the options raise less privacy concerns, they are problematic when differentiating out-of-state mileage.

For more information, contact AGC Chief Lobbyist Jerry VanderWood, 360.352.5000.

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