Washington state lawmakers will consider a system that would charge drivers fees based on how many miles they travel. File photo

Washington state lawmakers will consider a system that would charge drivers fees based on how many miles they travel. File photo

Lawmakers hear pitch to replace gas tax with per-mile fees

Transportation officials recommend 10-year transition.

By Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service

Washington state lawmakers will consider a gradual transition from the state’s current gasoline tax to a system that would charge drivers fees based on how many miles they travel.

This comes amid rising concerns over the amount of revenue available to fund transportation and the maintenance of roads and highways due to increasing fuel-efficiency among vehicles, as well as concerns that owners of older and less fuel-efficient vehicles are carrying a larger tax burden.

The House Transportation Committee heard a report Jan. 23 from the Washington State Transportation Commission on the feasibility and logistics of a road usage charge program.

Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, said “not everyone is paying their fair share for use of the roads.”

Griffith said drivers whose vehicles average fewer than 20 miles per gallon fuel efficiency could be paying up to five cents in taxes for every mile they drive, while drivers whose vehicles get more than 20 miles per gallon could be paying as little as one penny.

She said the current gas tax system creates a situation in which the vehicle you can afford, or what your lifestyle allows, determines how much you pay when traveling.

“Taxing gallons does have fairness and equity challenges,” Griffith said.

Griffith said the Transportation Commission recommends a slow transition from the current gas tax to the road usage charge over the next 10 years with the old and new tax systems running parallel to each other initially. She said while collection of the per-mile fees will be more costly than collection of the gas tax, which drivers pay at the pump, the net revenue from the road usage charge will exceed the net revenue provided by the gas tax.

The transportation commission conducted a pilot test with a diverse range of drivers in the state who drove a collective 15 million miles during the pilot program and paid a rate of 2.4 cents per mile driven.

Multiple methods of measuring miles driven were tested, including odometer measurements reported quarterly, a smartphone app, permits that allow for a specific block or number of miles to be driven, and plug-in devices that operate with and without GPS.

Griffith said surveys and focus groups done with test drivers indicated that privacy was one of their greatest concerns. She said 47% of pilot program participants did not want GPS to be used to track their vehicle.

The commission’s report estimated that under the road usage charge, owners of less fuel efficient vehicles will likely pay less, and hybrid/electric vehicle owners who drive more than 12,000 miles per year could end up paying more than they currently do.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, expressed concerns that implementation of the road usage charge could shift the equity disparity burden to owners of vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, which might disincentivize people to purchase hybrid and electric vehicles.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Republicans file lawsuit over Inslee’s emergency: ‘Facts, and the science, are clear’

Lawsuit says state has violated Constitutional rights of citizens.

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

The Regional Homelessness Authority was created by agreement in December 2019. Pictured: King County Executive Dow Constantine shakes hands with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Courtesy photo
Regional homelessness authority takes first step amid COVID-19

The authority held its first meeting on Thursday.

Among the candidates for Washington state governor in 2020: (Top row, L-R): Omari Tahir Garrett, Winston Wilkes, Thor Amundson, Cameron Vessey, Martin ‘Iceman’ Wheeler, Ryan Ryals; (middle row L-R): Liz Hallock, Goodspaceguy, Gov. Jay Inslee, Don Rivers, Gene Hart; (bottom row L-R): Phil Fortunato, Tim Eyman, Alex Tsimerman, Cairo D’Almeida, Cregan Newhouse, Raul Garcia.
GOP gubernatorial hopefuls aim to oust Inslee amid COVID-19

Former Bothell mayor Joshua Freed and initiative-pusher Tim Eyman could be the front-runners.

Nonprofit launches new online COVID-19 local resource hub for King County

Hub collects links for more than 300 local resources for people affected by virus.

Sound Transit to get $166.3 million federal grant for COVID-19 response

Funds for operating costs, maintenance, disinfecting vehicles and keeping drivers safe

Don’t avoid the emergency department in a crisis

ED volumes across the state are falling, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting sick or hurt.

State issues guidance on dental care, medical appointments

Resumption of those practices depends on adequate protective equipment and patient screening.

Most Read