Oregon’s VMT Pilot to Begin its Third Phase - Road Usage Charge Program Update

Press Release
Press Release

Since last reported on by NLC in December, 2012, the state of Oregon has covered a lot of mileage (ouch!) in its efforts to identify and put into place the next road user charge program. 

It is serendipitous that Oregon is a leader in this process, as it was here that the state-administered gas tax was “invented” in 1919.  The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has completed two pilots and is now in the process of preparing for the rollout of a voluntary 5,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) user fee program beginning July 1, 2015.

A great deal was learned about technology, privacy protection, administration, and how to engender public acceptance from the 2007 and 2012 VMT pilots.  Four fundamental objectives emerged:

  1.  The mileage reporting system must offer an open architecture.  That is to say, motorists must have choices among technologies that can be built into a vehicle and those options must come from a range of products available in the marketplace.  Government should not select the reporting technology, but only establish standards to ensure wireless interoperability, security and resistance to tampering.
  2. Government cannot mandate the use of GPS technology.  Despite the fact that today’s smartphones have locating capability, the technology used for a VMT program must offer the motorist the opportunity to report mileage directly from the vehicle’s existing odometer.
  3. Motorists must have choices of mileage reporting methodologies.  This also includes a motorist’s right to select among mileage reporting technologies (equipment). This cannot be the role of government.
  4. The private sector must have the opportunity to provide not only mileage reporting devices but also administrative and account management services.  Government can contract with private vendors to provide both equipment and services to increase efficiency and lower costs through the bundling of billings and other administrative enhancements.

In 2013, ODOT proposed and the Oregon Legislature approved SB 810 thanks, in part, to the two pilots that preceded it and to the support and assistance from diverse groups such as the League of Oregon Cities, the Association of Oregon Counties, the Oregon Business Association, the Western States Transportation Alliance, the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association and even the American Civil Liberties Union.   The elements of this next iteration of the Oregon VMT program will include:

  • A 1.5 cents per mile road usage charge for travel on public roads (determined to be the equivalent of Oregon’s state gas tax).
  • Inclusion of up to 5,000 volunteer vehicles registered in Oregon, subject to the following restrictions:
    • No more than  1,500 vehicles with a fuel efficiency rating of less than 17 miles per gallon (mpg)
    • No more than 1,500 vehicles with a fuel efficiency rating of  between 17 and 22 mpg
  • A refund/credit of the state gas tax to those motorists who sign up for the VMT program.
  • A refund/credit for travel on private roads in Oregon.
  • ODOT-developed methods by which VMT vehicles will measure and report mileage.
  • Options for VMT participants as to how their mileage will be collected and reported that includes at least one method not utilizing GPS technology.
  • Establishment of an integrated open-systems technology architecture.
  • Use of private sector partners to provide options to VMT volunteers in lieu of the DOT system.
  • Requirements for the protection of personal information.
  • Enforcement standards including penalties for false statements, non-payment and tampering with in-vehicle technology.

In a related development, it is worthy of note that Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) has introduced H.R. 3638, the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program Act of 2013, creating a $30 million competitive grant program to fund pilot projects like the ones undertaken in Oregon.  Several national transportation interest groups have already endorsed the concept and it has received favorable editorial treatment in The Washington Post.

For reasons known to all of us – including new technology and the alteration of driving habits due to high fuel prices and environmental concerns – gas taxes levied by the federal and state governments are revenue sources that are slowly but inexorably declining. In the not too distant future they will be obsolete. 

However, vehicles will still be using our roads and the need for funding to support the preservation and maintenance of street and highway infrastructure already in place will not decline.  It is time for transportation interests at all levels of government and throughout the country to work together to identify alternative and innovative funding mechanism, such as a VMT system, to help support dwindling gas tax revenues. 

Craig Honeyman is the Legislative Director for the League of Oregon Cities.  In this position, he oversees all of the League’s legislative affairs and focuses on transportation advocacy.  He can be reached at choneyman@orcities.org

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