Since 2012, the Washington Transportation Commission has been actively engaged in researching and testing new transportation funding methods that are more financially sustainable than the gas tax.
As the cars and trucks we drive are evolving to become cleaner, more fuel-efficient, and increasingly automated, our method of paying for roads must evolve as well.
In 2012 the Legislature directed the Transportation Commission to conduct a full assessment of road usage charging (RUC), which is a pay-by-the-mile fee that could eventually replace the state’s gas tax. This usage-based system has been studied and tested in several states and was recommended by a national transportation commission as a more financially sustainable and equitable approach.
Oregon is the only state in the country with a RUC program in law. Up to 5,000 Oregonians can choose to pay per mile rather than by the gallon of gas. And Utah is now implementing RUC as a new way for electric vehicles and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles to contribute their proportionate share of roadway funding, since these types of vehicles pay very little (or no) gas tax.The Transportation Commission has completed several critical research milestones specifically for Washington, including determining the technical feasibility of a per-mile fee system; measuring the financial implications of RUC compared to the state’s gas tax; and identifying and analyzing many policy issues related to switching over from the gas tax to RUC.
The most important remaining issue is measuring and understanding public reaction to a RUC system. Rather than relying solely on telephone or online opinion polling,the Transportation Commission designed a statewide,comprehensive public demonstration of a RUC system and invited over 2,000 Washingtonians to participate in a year-long “test drive” of RUC. The purpose of this public demonstration (or pilot project) is to let drivers directly experience a mileage reporting system and to report back to the research team on their reactions: what they liked,disliked, and what would have to change in order for RUCto be an acceptable way to pay for public roadways.
The pool of test drivers reflect the geographic and demographic diversity of Washington. Since driving needs and habits can vary by region, the Commission placed great importance on ensuring less-urbanized and rural areas were proportionately represented in the pilot.In carrying out the WA RUC pilot project, test drivers were provided with several choices for how to report their vehicle mileage, ranging from high tech, automated mileage reporting using GPS-enabled plug-in devices, to low (or no)tech methods where local vehicle licensing offices verify a driver’s vehicle mileage and help submit mileage reports. The graphic to the right shows what mileage reporting methods Washington drivers chose when given options:
The live test drive began on January 31, 2018 and will conclude on February 1, 2019. Throughout this year-long pilot test of a Washington-designed RUC system, the research team is administering detailed surveys of drivers to measure their reactions to various aspects of the RUC system. A total of three surveys will have been provided to over 2,000 drivers: a survey at the beginning of the driving period; a mid-pilot survey; and in late February 2019, a comprehensive post-pilot survey. In addition, focus group sessions are being conducted to explore issues in greater detail than is possible through surveys.
After collecting all driving data, and after having gathered direct and detailed feedback from the test drivers, the team will analyze and present the information to the WA RUC Steering Committee, the 26-member stakeholder group that was appointed by the Transportation Commission to help guide research and testing. The Steering Committee will then make formal findings, which will be forwarded to the Transportation Commission in late fall, 2019. After considering the results of the pilot test and findings of the Steering Committee, the Transportation Commission will issue a final report and recommendations, which will be sent to the Governor and Legislature for their consideration during the start of the 2020 legislative session.
For more information about the WA RUC pilot project and the Commission’s ongoing assessment of RUC, visit: www.waroadusagecharge.org.