Whatever happened to Oregon’s fledgling program of charging motorists a road user fee based on how far they drive? The 2017 legislature seems to have pretty much ignored the effort in favor of higher fuel taxes and registration fees.
OReGO, as ODOT calls the program, started in July 2015 and called for volunteers to sign up 5,000 vehicles. They would receive mileage-reporting devices to install in their cars. Then the owners would be charged 1.5 cents per mile and get refunds for the gas tax they were also paying. ODOT billed the effort, authorized by the 2013 legislature, as a way to start getting more highway revenue in the face of increasingly efficient vehicles, especially hybrids and electrics.
I signed up as an OReGO volunteer when the program started. In 2016 I got one gas tax refund check of $22.65. Since then my fuel consumption has been less and the difference between gas tax and mileage fee has been minuscule. So, no more refunds.
This year, ODOT asked lawmakers to expand the program and make it mandatory for vehicles of the model year 2026 or later. The bill to that effect, HB 2464, died in a House committee.
Instead, lawmakers approved a transportation bill that raises the gas tax 47 percent by 2026, from 30 cents a gallon now to 44 cents a gallon then. To get more road funds from highly efficient vehicles, the legislature also increased registration fees. The fees will go up on all vehicles, but the increases will be stiffer the more efficient a vehicle is rated. On electric cars the increase will be $100. And on some roads in the Portland area the legislature approved tolls.
Lawmakers evidently no longer think the road user charge or mileage tax is the way to go. Oregon drivers don’t seem to think so either. Even though the program was authorized for 5,000 vehicles, only 1,307 were enrolled from June 2015 through December 2016, and only 669 were still active on Dec. 31, according to a state report issued earlier this year.
As far as I can tell, OReGO continues to limp along, though so far it failed to record a 200-mile drive I took on July 16. And I haven’t heard anything about raising the 1.5-cent/mile charge to correspond to the coming boosts in the fuel tax, starting with 6 cents a gallon in 2018.
But considering that the public isn’t buying it, and that the legislature has found other ways of raising highway funds from highly efficient vehicles, ODOT might want to consider pulling the plug. (hh)