Piloting a VMT Tax

Back in 2001, when the legislature, once again, could not find a way to convince voters that raising the gas tax to keep pace with inflation might be a good idea, they instead created the Road User Fee Task Force (RUFTF – I’m still trying to figure out how that is pronounced).

One of the outputs of that task force is a pilot program to test how we might collect information for a mileage-based tax, as opposed to a per-gallon tax. The advantage of a mileage-based fee being that it is not eroded as fuel efficiency improves. The pilot currently under way is not about policy (i.e., how to set pricing) but about the technology. On Friday I had a chance to attend an ODOT demo of how the information is collected (at the gas pump). Here’s the photo tour.

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A handful of area service stations have been engaged as part of the pilot. The one I visited was near Powell and 122nd.

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The system in the vehicle has two radios: one for GPS tracking, the other to relay to the central system at a service station while refueling.

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The driver can see how much mileage is being accumulated in each category on a dashboard display. Apparently a few of these have been ripped off by thieves who think they are GPS displays.

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A transponder on the pump gets the details to print on the receipt.

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A central transponder at the service station gathers the VMT data from the vehicle.

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The receipt shows you VMT tax for each category of mileage: outside the state, inside the state, inside the Metro area during rush hour.

A few other points. The rush hour charge is not really a substitute for congestion pricing. For example the system cannot tell if you’re on a freeway or a local street (perhaps with different software?). It’s really there just to show that time/location based pricing is technically feasible.

Of course, I asked the big brother question. The ODOT folks tell me the data logger in the car only logs the category of location you’re in, not coordinates. I then asked if they would allow independent verification of the system to satisfy citizens that was true. They said they would (I don’t know if that’s official ODOT policy).

The purpose of this pilot, which has about 260 participants and runs for a few more months, is really to prove out the data collection technology, which it seems to have done. Policy choices come later…

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