State explores privacy issues, mileage tracking in road usage charge debate

Dec 16, 2021, 5:03 AM | Updated: 10:19 am
cars, road usage charge...
Cars heading in and out of Seattle on I-5. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Would you be OK with your car’s maker tracking your mileage so the state could charge you for every mile you drive? It’s one of the ideas being considered as the state struggles to begin a road usage charge system.

Washington tolling revenue still reeling from pandemic

One of the biggest concerns over the pay-by-mile system or a road usage charge (RUC) is the way the state would collect the data and what kind of data would be included. People participating in the trial didn’t like plugging a GPS device into their car. They considered it too much private data to give up.

As technology changes, the Washington State Transportation Commission is exploring telematics, where your car sends the data to its manufacturer automatically, and the automaker sends it directly to the state. No GPS tracking, but a lot more potential personal information getting out. Things like where you go, where you eat and, of course, your driving habits.

Travis Dunn, with engineering and construction firm CDM Smith, updated the commission this week on that potential.

“New vehicles are all equipped with — certainly the data is collected on board — but now they’re equipped with the ability to transmit that data,” Dunn said. “Accessing it directly from the automakers is a way to, in the long term, reduce costs and also improve the user experience.”

To make sure he heard that correctly, commission member Jim Restucci asked for clarification.

“You’re talking about not plugging a device into the on-board diagnostic port and actually using the car itself to communicate the telematics details, correct?” he asked.

Dunn answered: “Correct.”

Now this is just something the commission is looking at. It did not test this idea during the pilot project, but the commission wants to make sure it is keeping up with the accelerating technology that could be used in a pay-by-mile tracking system.

Speaking of acceleration, the speed with which automakers are committing to electric cars and trucks has the commission concerned. EVs do not pay for the roads because they are not charged the gas tax. That’s why they want to switch to the RUC quickly so they can capture those dollars for our roads and transportation projects.

“We’ve been at this for 10 years, and the world has been shifting at an unprecedented pace, in terms of a transition and the motivation of the automakers,” WSTC Executive Director Reema Griffith said. “Just wondering, Travis, if we need to refresh our timeline?”

The commission is finalizing its pitch to the legislature, which it will deliver next month. It will once again be asking lawmakers to at least start the RUC program on a limited basis to get the ball rolling.

“Everything is indicating the nation is gearing up, and we need to pick up our pace as well,” Griffith said.

But there are significant roadblocks to transitioning to the RUC that go beyond EVs and data collection.

Dunn’s research showed lower income people will suffer more than others, the longer the gas tax is in use. People making under $30,000 a year pay up to 40% of their income toward transportation, with most of that coming from having a car and maintaining it.

Those with lower incomes likely drive older and less fuel-efficient cars. Dunn said they pay more per mile in gas taxes. If the state switches to pay by mile, everyone will pay the same rate, no matter what kind of car they drive.

“What this means is if you imagine hypothetically switching to a road usage charge across the board for all vehicles, the payments would be equalized,” he said. “It would be $240 across the board. The lower income households would save. The higher income households would pay more.”

That $240 represents the 2.4 cents per mile charge over an average 10,000 miles driven in a year.

So, add equity issues to the list of concerns with adopting the road usage charge, as well as privacy, and the increasing move to EVs.

You can see that there is a lot for lawmakers to address on this in the upcoming short session. Not sure it happens in 2022, despite the urgency from the transportation commission.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


Trash is strewn along an Interstate 5 freeway on-ramp as viewed in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by G...
Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: A glance at current Washington state laws to avoid littering on the road

Littering is still a huge problem on our roads, but are you still required to carry a trash bag in your car?
9 days ago
Expansion joints underneath I-5 (KIRO Newsradio)...
Chris Sullivan

I-5 expansion joint repair will hamper your summer driving

If the weather holds, southbound I-5 will be shut-down this weekend through Seattle for the first of a summer’s worth of weekend closures for expansion joint repairs.
14 days ago
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)...
Chris Sullivan

ORCA card gets a reboot with instant value transfer feature

The new site and app will allow more than five million users to add money to their accounts instantly alongside 6,000 new card readers and vending machines.
17 days ago
Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: Sound Transit passes fare reform with diminished ridership accountability checks

Sound Transit no longer has mechanisms in place to check I-D's and track who isn't paying in the first place with their decision to remove law enforcement from the fare enforcement process.
20 days ago
Expansion joints I-5, bumps...
Chris Sullivan

Work to remove bumps along I-5 through downtown Seattle set to bring months of weekend closures

Workers are about kick off work to remove those bumps on I-5 through Seattle, but it's going to come with a heavy price for drivers.
28 days ago
WSDOT, HOV lanes...
Chris Sullivan

Northbound HOV optimism and aggressive litter cleanup in Puyallup

Nearly every morning on the KIRO Newsradio text line, I receive this question: When will the northbound HOV lane open?
30 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
State explores privacy issues, mileage tracking in road usage charge debate