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As fuel efficiency rises, state looks to replace gas tax

OReGO, a pay-per-mile program, is being road tested to possibly replace the fuel tax.

By KATHY ANEY

EO Media Group

Published on May 27, 2015 8:37AM

Last changed on May 27, 2015 11:07AM

The Oregon Department of Transportation is asking for volunteers for its new gas tax program. The program, called OReGo, would tax participants 1.5 cents per mile and is a test study as a potential replacement for the state’s fuel tax system.

E.J. HARRIS — EO Media Group

The Oregon Department of Transportation is asking for volunteers for its new gas tax program. The program, called OReGo, would tax participants 1.5 cents per mile and is a test study as a potential replacement for the state’s fuel tax system.

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Hybrid and pickup owners drive the same highways andbyways, but they don’t pay equally for repair and maintenance of Oregon’s roads.

When you compare a 2014 Toyota Prius and a 2014 Ford F-150 over 12,962 miles — the average driven by an Oregon driver each year — the F-150 pays $216.03 in Oregon fuel tax to the Prius’ $77.77.

Rising fuel efficiency means fewer dollars for road work. Fourteen years ago, Oregon’s Department of Transportation started looking for another way to fund road repairs.

“We have to modernize our funding model just as we’ve modernized our modes of transportation,” said Oregon Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Godfrey.

OReGO, a pay-per-mile program, is being road tested to possibly replace the fuel tax. Up to 5,000 volunteers will transmit mileage and fuel data from their vehicles. Participants will pay 1.5 cents per mile and get refunds for the 30-cent-per-gallon tax they pay at the pumps.

“It’s about fairness,” Godfrey said. “You pay for what you use.”

So far, 1,600 drivers have signed up at the OReGO website to participate in the experiment and Godfrey expects that number to double shortly. The still-voluntary program kicks off July 1.

Many drivers won’t like the math, at least initially. Twenty miles per gallon is the break-even point. A calculator on the website shows how much more or less you would pay. An average Prius owner would pay almost $200 more a year, while the F-150 driver would save about $20.

Oregon would be the first state in the nation to adopt such a road-usage charge.

Pendleton driver Tammy Dennee participated in one of two earlier pilots of the program. She plugged a data capture unit into her Ford Explorer and started driving.

“Everything was technology driven,” she said. “No fuss. No muss.”

Dennee, who recently moved to Salem to become assistant director of the Dairy Farmers Association, served for five years on the task force that looked into the feasibility of the road-usage program. While the program is fairly straightforward, she said, people wrestle with the concept.

“There are no easy answers when it comes to taxes,” she said. “It’s never an easy conversation.”

Yet, she said, Oregon’s transportation infrastructure is deteriorating.

“We expect the same quality of roadways and bridges, but Department of Transportation dollars aren’t there,” Dennee said. “It’s become a fairness discussion.”

States are looking for ways to retool the gas tax, Godfrey said. When Oregon pioneered the nation’s first fuel tax in 1919, Godfrey said “consumption was the perfect proxy for how much you use the road. That’s not the case now.”

Critics protest that smaller vehicles don’t damage roads as much as larger vehicles and should therefore pay less. Godfrey shakes her head.

“ODOT has researched this for many, many years and has determined time and time again that vehicles that are 10,000 pounds and less impact the roadway about the same,” she said. “There is a perception that a light car does so much less damage, but it’s not really the case.”

Godfrey also rejects concerns the program would discourage people from buying hybrids or electric vehicles.

“You save so much more in overall driving costs that there’s still a very strong incentive to purchase an EV or hybrid,” she said. “Overall (in the F-150 and Prius comparison) you’re still saving about $800 a year by driving a Prius.”

Participants may eventually choose from a menu of services made possible by the pay-per-mile technology. The list includes such things as vehicle diagnostics, DEQ emissions testing on the fly, pay-as-you-go insurance and a geo-fence for parents with teen drivers in the family.

“These are all things that are in development,” Godfrey said.

ODOT contracts with the private sector for technology and services.

For more information about the program, visit www.myorego.org.



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