A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

OReGO update: How about bikes?

Written March 17th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
Maybe bike computers could be rigged to report mileage so cyclists could be charged like motorists.

Maybe bike computers could be rigged to report mileage so cyclists could be charged like motorists.

Let’s check in on OReGO, which seems to be flying under the radar of public interest and perhaps awareness. Maybe people would be more interested if I raised the possibility that Oregon’s pioneering approach to road taxation might some day work to get a little extra revenue from bicyclists as well.

As you may remember, state law authorizes up to 5,000 cars and light trucks under 10,000 pounds to participate in ODOT’s program of taxing vehicles by the miles they are driven on public roads within the state, instead of via the gas tax. The voluntary program started July 1, 2015, but so far only 1,005 vehicles have been signed up, OReGO spokeswoman Michelle Godfrey told me Wednesday.

One of them is my 2007 GMC pickup, and it is costing the state a few pennies every time I take it out on the road. That’s because while OReGO charges me 1.5 cents per mile I drive the truck, it also refunds the gas tax that I’ve already paid at the pump. And the truck’s mileage, while decent, results in me paying slightly more than 1.5 cents per mile in gas tax.

I don’t drive the truck all the time and so far I’ve not actually received a refund. But as of Thursday night, ODOT owes me $19.93. (I think they’ll send a check when the amount tops $20.)

On its website, OReGO answers common questions. One of them is whether bicyclists and motorcyclists can take part in the mileage-tax program. Answer: No, only certain motor vehicles are included.

But I know there’s some public interest in getting bicycle riders like me to pay more than we already pay as motor vehicle owners. So I wondered whether something like OReGO could eventually cover bikes as well. Perhaps bike computers could be adapted to report mileage to the mobile phone network the way the mileage reporting devices now do for participating cars.

“Including bicycles in the program is an interesting tweak to think about, but probably pretty far down the road,” Godfrey replied when I put the question to her. “We would need to prove OReGO first, have it expanded and perhaps mandated for vehicles before that would likely even be considered. By that time, the technology for mileage reporting will have evolved and a device may not even be necessary (perhaps use the car’s in-dash telematics or a cyclist’s smartphone). So it’s difficult to say what could happen.”

As for the program itself, Godfrey says it’s running smoothly and the retention rate among the volunteers is around 95 percent. “Volunteers are reporting positive experiences in the program, and that evaluation is continuing.”

Sooner or later, the legislature will have to decide how to proceed. OReGO has no ending date, but since it reached only 20 percent of its authorized size eight months after the start, it does not look as though this is something Oregonians are eager to accept. (hh)


10 responses to “OReGO update: How about bikes?”

  1. GregB says:

    I am curious, how does the OReGO program work if you drive your GMC truck out of state and fuel up out of state? And, another scenario, what happens if you fill up in Medford, drive into N California, come back to Medford with a empty tank and fill up there?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      ODOT’s Shelley Snow replied to Greg’s question: “Participants in the current program can choose among three vendors. Two of those vendors offer a GPS option that knows when you are in state or out of state, and you are not charged for your out of state miles. If you’ve chosen Sanef, the third vendor, there is no GPS option and you have to manually count your miles out of state and then submit a statement that the miles were driven out of state. Then those miles (X 1.5 cents) will show up as a credit on your statement.”

      • Hasso Hering says:

        Another reply came from ODOT’s Michelle Godfrey, spokeswoman for OReGO: “Here is the simple answer:
        1. State fuel tax paid by OReGO participants is credited to their account at Oregon’s tax rate of $0.30 per gallon, regardless of where they bought the fuel.
        2. Miles driven out of state are not eligible to be charged by OReGO
        What that means is, if a driver fuels up out of state and drives out of state, they would get a fuel tax credit (at Oregon’s rate) but the out of state miles would not be chargeable.
        The same scenario occurs if the driver fuels in Oregon, drives in California, and returns to Oregon to re-fuel. When enrolled in OReGO, the $0.30/gallon fuel tax is credited, and the California miles are not chargeable.
        Understand this is the case only for this OReGO test phase and for a relatively few number of drivers. Clearly, it is not fair for some drivers to avoid paying tax because they fuel up out of state. If OReGO moves forward, and an expanded or mandated system be put in place, there would likely be a different approach to collecting tax/road charge for these drivers. Currently, a group of states called the Western Road Usage Charge Consortium is researching the viability of a regional system that would appropriately credit state fuel tax and apply per-mile fees to the state in which the actual tax/mile occurred.

  2. Warren Beeson says:

    Gee, it couldn’t possibly be that we don’t trust government any more at at any level. Thus we avoid involvement of any kind and with suspicion at best and usually an inclination to hostility. We know in our gut that this is another effort to add to our taxes, not to replace a tax. Good grief, our state legislature can’t even eliminate the ethanol boondoggle and it’s not only a giveaway of taxpayers money, it doesn’t even purport to accomplish its stated purpose of environmental improvement. How can we trust people like that?

    • Bob Woods says:

      You probably don’t trust government because you’re a conservative that bought into all those lies about “government being the problem” and the “liberals” being after you.

      Your’re living in a country that has been run by Conservatives since the 1968 election of Nixon. Since the Gingrich revolution in 1994, both House of Congress have mostly been run by Republicans, including the famous Mich (The Turtle) McConnel’s famous declaration that they would pass nothing at all. For eight years.

      Want to get back at the people that caused this? LOOK IN THE MIRROR.

      • Warren Beeson says:

        Actually I don’t trust government for two primary reasons. First and foremost, is that our nation’a founders didn’t trust government and cautioned us not too as well. Second, my personal experience both as a government employee and later a business owner, taught me it is not to be trusted.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          There’s got to be a happy medium somewhere. The consummate damage from major deregulation starting in the 80’s and going forward proves that in spades…

  3. Max stalnaker says:

    If you eliminatw snoopy security info and snoopy marketing info and snoopy planning info then this could be a five dollar device. But some people would try to cheat and maybe succeed. The horror

  4. HowlingCicada says:

    About bicycles instead of paranoia, while my first choice is to judge all the externalities and recognize that cars (expecially single occupant) are highly negative and bicycles are mostly positive, I have no illusions about convincing anyone (especially here). So, I think taxing road use would be OK if the conditions are fair:

    1 – The tax rate would have to reflect the actual cost of maintenance relative to that imposed by much heavier and faster vehicles. In other words, the rate would be much lower.

    2 – If #1 is violated, then we can expect most of the money collected in bicycle taxes to pay for new facilities. The biggest “bang for the buck” would be small pathways connecting neighborhoods isolated from each other by cul-de-sacs, creeks, forests, railway tracks, and freeways. I’d be willing to pay a lot to fix the top 5 of these in Corvallis. Don’t know enough about Albany to say much, but a bike bridge across the Calapooia River near Pirtle or Walnut Drive SW seems useful.

    Of course, I can’t help thinking that Hasso’s bike idea is a bit tongue-in-cheek, particularly the metering methods.

  5. Bill Kapaun says:

    And if someone steals your bike, would you have to keep on paying while someone else racks up the miles?

    How about putting your bike in the trunk and driving across state? Do you get to pay twice?

    There’s just too many bugaboos trying to charge/license bikes. It would cost far more to administer than any “profits” derived.

    As someone who has worked rather extensively on bicycles, I doubt it would be difficult to scam THAT system. Just find an old junker bike with the “device” to register with the state while you ride your good bike.


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