SALEM, ORE. — About 40 volunteers from around Oregon began testing the next generation of a “road usage charge” system this month. Authorized by the 2011 state legislature with HB 2138, the pilot project will test a road usage charge system to address funding gaps caused by a rise in fuel efficiency and a decline in gas tax revenue. Instead of paying the gas tax (automatically added at the pump), pilot participants will pay a “per mile” charge based on the number of miles they drive. The charge is roughly equal to the amount of gas tax they would have paid for a vehicle that gets 20 miles to the gallon; most participants will be refunded gas taxes paid during the pilot.
The Oregon Department of Transportation focused on choice, transparency, ease of use and protection of privacy as they worked with private firms to develop the road usage charge system piloted in this program. Participants have a choice of five different plans involving a range of technologies and methods for reporting and paying. Drivers choose the way miles are reported with in-vehicle technology — some without GPS capability and others able to use it — or could opt out of in-vehicle technology altogether by paying a flat annual charge in lieu of a per-miles-traveled basis. For the pilot, ODOT contracted with a private company, Sanef, to process payments as an alternative to ODOT and provide mileage reporting devices.
“This pilot will offer a peek into a future system where motorists will be responsible for choosing how they report their miles, from certified options, and also their account management provider,” explained Jim Whitty, Office of Innovative Partnerships Manager at the Oregon Department of Transportation. “It’s critical that we learn what’s needed to create an open system that can adapt and change as technology and the market change.”
Whitty also noted that ODOT gathered valuable information from the first Road User Fee Pilot Project, completed in 2007, and is responding to those findings in this pilot. “We are addressing the public’s concern about government involvement in several ways,” he said. “For example, the new concept envisions the state outsourcing system functions to the private sector as an alternative to the government, and we are testing that in this pilot as well.”
Mileage reporting technology
For pilot participants paying by the mile, a mileage reporting device plugged into a diagnostic port, located under the dashboard, reports the distance traveled. The reporting device only reports the number of miles driven, not where they are driven. The device wirelessly reports the miles driven to ODOT or Sanef, depending on the plan; ODOT or Sanef provides a monthly bill to participants based on their reported road use.
The pilot includes three mileage reporting device choices:
• The Basic mileage reporting device reports the total number of miles driven only. This device does not include GPS and does not report the location of miles driven.
• A Smartphone application and basic mileage reporting device uses the basic device to report the total miles driven and a participant can activate an app on an Android Smartphone to determine which miles are driven outside of Oregon, for which drivers are not charged. If the app is not turned on, only the total miles driven are reported.
• The Advanced mileage reporting device reports the total number of miles driven and uses GPS to determine which miles are driven outside of Oregon, for which drivers are not charged.
“People wanted choices, so for this pilot, participants are choosing from several options for reporting and paying their bill — ODOT won’t make the choice for technologies; the participants will do that,” Whitty said.
More information about the pilot program and a blog featuring posts from pilot participants and ODOT can be found at roadchargeoregon.org.