An October 27 Oregonian article reported that Oregon is ready to launch a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or “pay-as-you-drive” road tax. The program is seeking 5,000 volunteers to participate in a public trial starting on July 15, 2015. The article summarized seven key discussion points from a Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) “listening tour” in Portland. Several of the points included:
2. Drivers will be charged 1.5 cents a mile. They will be able to track their distances using everything from a GPS tracker to an odometer device to a daily diary. “GPS will be the most hassle-free option,” said Michelle Godfrey, a road usage charge program spokeswoman. “But it’s also the option that people tend to dislike the most.” …
3. Trial drivers will get a monthly bill, with ODOT sending rebate checks to offset money spent on the 30-cents-per-gallon gas tax. And that’s where things start sounding a bit convoluted. Rebate checks? So, would drivers be just giving the government an interest-free loan for road construction?
4. This is just one step in a long process to possibly build momentum for a widespread road-user tax. From the pamphlet that was handed out to meeting participants: “Oregon’s Senate Bill 810 was the first legislation in the U.S. to establish a RUCP for state transportation funding. The bill authorized ODOT to set up a mileage collection system for volunteer motorists, assess a charge of 1.5 cents per mile for up to 5,000 cars and light commercial vehicles, and issue a gas tax refund to participants. The volunteer program will not be another pilot project but rather the start of an alternate method of generating sustainable revenue to pay for Oregon highways. …”
5. ODOT will use a private vendor to handle the accounting and management of the road tax.
6. Although ODOT is promising stiff penalties for fraudulent reporting, the state guarantees that it will protect “personally identifiable” information.
Nationwide, interest in the VMT revenue model has been spurred by declining gas tax revenues that have not kept pace with road construction costs and have been further depressed by higher fuel efficiency standards. Opponents cite the disproportionate effect the tax will have on certain segments of the population, such as people living in rural areas, and privacy concerns. In Maryland, MACo has opposed proposals that would tie local land use planning to reducing VMTs.