Oregon to test mileage-based gas tax

Wikimedia Commons

Some drivers in Oregon will soon pay gas taxes based on how many miles they travel, instead of how many gallons they buy, according to a report from Portland. 

The plan, known in transportation circles as Vehicle-Miles-Traveled (VMT), faced opposition over privacy concerns in Washington, when it was floated as alternative to the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that is currently used to pay for infrastructure projects. 

Oregon is moving ahead with a pilot program that will involve 5,000 drivers who will either use a GPS or odometer tracker, or else keep a travel diary, according to the report. 

Oregon Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Godfrey told the The Oregonian newspaper that GPS would be the easiest option for tracking drivers’ mileage, but she admitted it would also be the most controversial. 

“GPS will be the most hassle-free option," Godfrey said, according to the report. "But it's also the option that people tend to dislike the most." 

Transportation advocates in Washington have suggested moving to a mileage-based fee system, as receipts from the gas tax have dwindled in recent years — but to no avail. 

The normal source for transportation projects is revenue collected by the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and the pace of infrastructure expenses is outpacing it, as cars become more fuel efficient. 

The last transportation bill approved by Congress, in 2012, included approximately $50 billion per year in road and transit spending, but the gas tax is only bringing in about $34 billion per year. 

Transportation advocates have suggested a switch to a mileage-based program, but critics have raised concerns about government officials tracking the movements of drivers. 

The Obama administration has distanced itself from both mileage-based driver fees and an increase in the gas tax to avoid raising the ire of voters before next week’s election. 

The administration sent Congress a four-year, $302 billion transportation proposal earlier this year with revenue that would be generated from closing corporate tax loopholes. 

Congress was only able to come up with enough money, approximately $11 billion, to cover the transportation shortfall until next May, however.