CHOKEPOINTS

Pay-per-mile system gets first House hearing in Washington

Feb 3, 2022, 5:14 AM | Updated: 10:26 am

pay per mile...

Construction on northbound SR 167 in Sumner, pictured in August 2021. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)

Washington’s transition from a gas tax to a pay-per-mile system takes another step Thursday, as the state House is set to hear a bill on setting up the system.

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This is the first time the Road Usage Charge will be debated in front of the House. It has gone from a table-top discussion by the Washington State Transportation Commission to a one-year pilot program by Washington drivers, and now to this, House Bill 2026 with a hearing before the House Transportation Committee. A similar bill passed the Senate last year and is in rules.

This all started years ago when it became apparent that the newer, more fuel-efficient cars were getting more miles to the gallon, meaning the gas tax was creating less and less money for Washington roads. Add in the adoption of electric vehicles that pay no gas tax but still create wear and tear on the roads, and it became even more obvious that a new way to raise those road dollars was needed.

And that new way is a pay-per-mile system, or a road usage charge (RUC).

It is something the state transportation commission has been urging the legislature to adopt.

“I would say the likelihood is increasing each session, but I can’t say it’s going to happen this short session,” said Reema Griffith, the executive director of the transportation commission, at a December meeting. “I do know there have been more members that have been in touch with us talking about legislation.”

Griffith told the commission that the time to at least get the ball rolling on a road usage charge is now.

“This session, we do have an opportunity to continue to urge that they take action to implement a small program as soon as possible — if not in 2022, at least authorizing it in 2022,” Griffith said. “It will take a few years to get up and running, which is a key point. It’s not just flipping a switch. It has to be built and implemented.”

The bill sets up the rules of the pay-per-mile program, but how it would be implemented would be set up by the end of 2024.

In July of 2025, all new electric vehicles and at least 500 vehicles in the state fleet must switch to the road usage charge, which will be a $0.025 per mile charge. Many of the EV fees normally paid would be waived. Current EV owners can also opt-in at their renewal. New EV owners would pay no more than $225 a year, which is what they would normally pay in fees. Voluntary participants would only pay $175 a year, which is less than they would normally pay in fees.

A year later, hybrid electric vehicles would be added. In July 2027, owners of gas-powered cars can opt-in to the program. They would pay both the gas tax and the road usage fee, but be reimbursed for the gas tax when renewing their tabs.

In January 2029, the four years of data will be released and evaluated to see if the entire state should move to the road usage charge model.

The legislation does have some key wording in the bill. The money raised from the RUC must go to transportation, just like the gas tax. Users will have options on how to collect the data, including a simple odometer reading to a plug-in device. Those will be set up later. The data collected will only be general location — it won’t track driving patterns or things like that, but the data can be turned over to law enforcement with a court order.

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

The one thing not mentioned specifically in the legislation is that the RUC would replace the gas tax, even though that is the plan. It only discusses a transition from a gas tax to a road usage charge.

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