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Transportation officials to test charging drivers by the mile rather than by the gallon

Transportation officials to test charging drivers by the mile rather than by the gallon

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – This fall the state of Washington will begin a pilot program, testing a new system of charging drivers for the number of miles traveled, instead of charging a gas tax.

How this change will impact drivers really depends on what kind of car you drive and how many miles you rack up per month.

Right now, the state gas tax is 50-cents per gallon, and the transportation commission is looking at replacing that with a 2.4-cent tax for every mile that you drive in the state. When compared to the amount of gas consumed, this would add up to the same amount an average driver who gets 20 MPG would pay in state gas taxes.

This change comes as cars becoming more fuel efficient and people aren't buying as much gas. Now the state is collecting less revenue in gas taxes.

"That's bad news in terms of revenue for our highways and bridges,” said Reema Griffith, executive director for the Washington State Transportation Commission. “The gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to the highways and it’s the main funding source for all of our roads."

Next year the Washington State Department of Transportation expects gas-tax revenues to rise by 0.9 percent. It expects its construction costs to increase by 2.6?percent.

The year after, it expects gas-tax revenue to increase by 0.7 percent. It expects construction costs to increase by 2.7 percent.

Same story the year after that: Gas-tax revenue up 0.6 percent, construction costs up 3.1 percent.

Griffith said the average car in the U.S. gets 20 MPG and forecasters say by 2035 the average will increase to 35 MPG.

That change equates to about a 45 percent reduction in transportation revenue, which the transportation commission says poses a problem for the state to maintain roads.

"That's a pretty significant impact over time and so the work that's happening now is to prepare for that because this would potentially be a big shift in how we all think about paying for our roads," Griffith said.

Drivers we talked to had mixed reactions on the possible change.

Patrick Killoran is an Uber driver in the Tri-Cities, and gets close to the average 20 MPG, meaning his taxes would be about the same.

"If it means I’m going to pay as much as I normally would in gas then I'd only really have an opinion if say I drove an electric car or hybrid,” Killoran said.

However, Randy Colby does have a more fuel-efficient car which averages 28 MPG. Plus, he said he drives about 2,000 miles a month, meaning his taxes may go up some.

"Well I'd rather have the gas tax than by the mile," Colby said.

Griffith admits that with the pay-per-mile system, taxes would go up a little for folks driving electric and hybrid cars, but she stresses that their overall cost savings on gas won't ever go away.

Griffith said the goal is to have people pay for the roads they use in Washington, versus the gas the use.

Garret Brown, president of Mid-Columbia Electric Vehicle Association, said that heavier vehicles, big trucks and studded tires do the most damage to the roads. So he said he thinks a more equitable tax would incorporate the weight of a vehicle, plus the miles they drive.

Griffith said that’s why they’re hoping people participate in their pilot test, so they can get drivers feedback.

Overall, she said it's important to look to the future of maintaining our mobility.

"At the end of the day it’s all about making sure we have funding to make sure those roads are taken care of that we all need for getting around and for our economy," Griffith said.

Up to 2,000 volunteers will be asked to participate in the pilot. Miles can be tracked either by sending in pictures of their odometer or having it read at a Department of Licensing office, by using a smartphone app to track miles, or by plugging a mileage meter into their car.

The Washington State Traffic Commission is currently recruiting drivers to participate in their pay-per-mile test. Participants wouldn't actually use real money, but they could share their feedback from their findings.

The pilot program will start in 2018 and last a year. They will then crunch the numbers and give an opinion to lawmakers in Olympia.

For those interested in becoming part of the pilot program, go to this website: www.waroadusagecharge.org.


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