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Pay-per-mile tax program is going to be tested in Washington

The Washington State Transportation Commission is rolling out its plans to tax drivers for the miles they drive, instead of at the pump, with a pilot project set to start in less than a year.

Oregon’s volunteer pilot project began this year. About 1,200 people voluntarily enrolled in the pilot.

Related: Gov. Inslee says there are tax increases in budget proposal

The reason for this plan is simple: Today’s vehicles are more fuel efficient, they get better mile-per-gallon, and therefore they pay less in gas tax. That means gas taxes aren’t paying for transportation projects like they used to.

Michelle Godfrey with the Oregon Department of Transportation says the program was surprisingly popular.

“It is a tax program, so expecting people to volunteer to pay a tax can be challenging,” she said. “But we were excited to get more than 1,200 vehicles enrolled in our first year. People can come and go as they please.”

Some people did choose to part ways with the program. Godfrey says some participants chose to “move on” after the year was up.

But those that are using the plan say they like it.

“When we surveyed our volunteers, we asked how satisfied with the program,” she explained. “Better than 85 percent say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the program, so that is very encouraging.”

In the Oregon plan, drivers get a plug-in for their car. There is a GPS option and a non-GPS option, and they get a monthly bill.

“They get a credit for all the gas tax they pay at the pump and instead elect to pay the road charge which you’ll see the gallons of gas consumed and gas tax paid at the pump and the road charge. And you take the difference and that is what they pay or receive credit for.”

The tax is 1.5 cents per mile. It would be a similar tax under Washington’s pilot project.

Washington is considering four options to track your mileage. Those options include a flat fee, using your odometer, a smartphone app, or a GPS tracker.

Godfrey says the flat fee system didn’t work too well in Oregon.

“There is no flat fee in this operation phase,” she said. “We did test a flat-fee option in a previous pilot. It proved not to be very successful and not necessarily fair in terms of what this program is attempting to do.”

Godfrey says she understands the privacy concerns of putting a GPS tracker in your car, but she says Oregon drivers are warming up to the idea.

Oregon has had issues getting the system to work for some car models including electric cars, but it is working through them.

Oregon will continue to test the program and sign up more volunteers until the Legislature decides what to do. The recommendation to make it mandatory for all Oregon drivers after 2025.

Tell Chris about a Chokepoint or ask a traffic question @kirortraffic via Twitter.

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