Road user fee pilot project attracts attention

Betsy Imholt
Alternative Funding Administrator
Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding
Oregon Department of Transportation
Salem, Oregon

The Oregon Department of Transportation launched its road user fee pilot project in Portland, Oregon in early March with the recruitment of volunteers for the program. The road user fee pilot project will test several key aspects of charging a mileage fee at the pump in lieu of the state's 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax.

The road user fee pilot project is the result of research findings from Oregon's Road User Fee Task Force, or RUFTF, created by the Oregon Legislature in 2001 to investigate new ways of generating revenue for the state's transportation system. Oregon, like many other states and nations, is experiencing a slowdown in the growth of gas tax revenue due to increased automobile fuel efficiency. A user fee is one proposal for replacing gas tax revenues for road maintenance, preservation and construction. Oregon has received interest from all over the world on its pilot project including Japan and Great Britain.

Volunteers' vehicles are currently being outfitted with a mileage-counting device for in-state travel and will need to purchase gas at select service stations in Portland where the miles are downloaded automatically using shortwave radio communication. The gas tax is then deduced and the mileage fee is added to the transaction.

The first six months of the pilot will be the "control" phase. Participants will drive as they normally do and will continue to pay the state gas tax at the pump as usual (24 cents per gallon). During this phase, participants will be required to purchase gas at the participating gas stations at least twice per month.

In October 2006, about the midpoint of the study, the "test" phase begins and participants will be divided into three groups: a control group, a vehicle mile tax group and a congestion pricing group. The latter two groups will be larger than the control group and will pay a vehicle mile fee: one group will pay a flat rate (1.2 cents per mile), and the other group will pay a varied rate depending on how many miles are driven in the designated rush hour zones. These two groups will also not pay the gas tax for six months.

Although a mileage fee is not a new idea, the method of collection has stumped transportation officials for years. The key concept being tested in the Oregon study is the collection at service stations. It is designed to be seamless to the gas station attendant (in Oregon it is illegal to pump your own gas) and the driver.

The technology for the pilot was designed by engineering professors at Oregon State University. The technology was specifically designed to prevent the tracking of motorists and protect the privacy of participants.

To learn more, please visit www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/OIPP/mileage.shtml.

Betsy Imholt works with both the Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding programs providing strategic leadership, analyzing issues and managing consultants. She can be reached at (503) 986-4077 or betsy.imholt@odot.state.or.us.