Per Mile Road Usage Charge Moves Forward
January 17, 2020
Late last year, the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) adopted recommendations on how Washington can move away from our 49.4 cents per gallon state gas tax and toward a 2.4 cents per mile road usage charge system.
Using data collected from the Washington State Road Usage Charge Pilot Project, WSTC acknowledged several concerns with the transition including privacy protections and restriction of Road Usage Charge (RUC) revenues to highway-related expenditures.
Users in the pilot had the option of reporting their miles driven with one of four systems: GPS, non-GPS, smartphone or self-reporting by submitting photos of their odometers. Critics noted that in some of these options, possible traffic violations were also logged, raising concerns that the system could be expanded to traffic law enforcement in the future.
Other critics were stringently opposed to any limitations on the use of RUC funds for highway-related only. Climate Solutions, Front and Centered, Futurewise, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy in Washington, Transportation Choices Coalition, Washington Environmental Council/Washington Conservation Voters submitted a joint letter asking that revenues not be restricted to highway-related use as, “While our roadways are inadequately maintained, our transit systems also lack sufficient investment.”
The City of Seattle Department of Transportation went even further, asking the commission to “…include congestion factors in its pricing model, such as charging more to use roadways during peak commute periods” as well as “…data collected through the program should be made available to local and regional governments for analytical purposes so that they can make more informed traffic and safety engineering decisions.”
The Commission has recommended a slow and gradual approach to introduce (RUC) in Washington, including a start-up phase to help inform a transition plan before there is broad future adoption. They propose a start-up phase to include vehicles that pay little or no gas tax: plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, which currently pay flat annual fees regardless of miles driven.
If implemented, a Road Usage Charge (also called a mileage tax), would require drivers to pay a tax on every mile they drive, rather than on every gallon of gas they purchase at the pump. This recommendation will now move forward to the Legislature and governor for review.