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Guest article: My view of “OreGo”, Oregon’s new vehicle mileage tax program

Posted by on September 20th, 2016 at 10:03 am

Screengrab from OreGo website.

Screengrab from OreGo website.

This post is written by Jerry “AJ” Zelada, a Portland-based optometrist, citizen advocate, and former chair of the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

I am one of the 891 users of OreGo (the State of Oregon’s experimental new road tax program) who paid the road use tax this past year. As readers here might recall, I was critical of the gas tax increase because the consumption of this resource is declining and will decline even further as auto and light truck efficiency increases and electric car numbers increase. And while I did vote for it, I am still opposed to taxing a resource rather than taxing actual use.

The OreGo program is a good tax mechanism. The program uses a simple plug-in device that measures miles driven. You are taxed 1.5 cents a mile and given credit for your expected payment at the pump. It is subtracted from a simple ‘wallet’ account. OreGo is also about data. It produces solid information about usage beyond miles driven; but the focus is so motor-vehicle oriented, we may miss including tax income for active transportation needs.

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The origins of OreGo

I was first introduced to OreGo in 2008 when I sat on the Sustainability Transportation Initiative Committee (Senate Bill 1059). A presenter told us about congestion taxation pricing: They could map people and tax drivers who were using specific highways at specific times. The software could track behavior which causes reduced road capacity: entering one exit, changing lanes to the fast lane and then back to the slow exit lane only one exit later. And with a devious smile, he said these behaviors could be taxed differentially. This was music to my ears and parallel to the notion of industry charge-backs: more pollution you pay more; less pollution you get credits. It is a tribute to a few that the program actually continued to get developed over seven years and is now being considered as something viable.

The benefits of data

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There are some secondary benefits that can accompany this program. I can log into my account and see my own behavior: jack-rabbit starts; hard braking; a map of every trip my car has made. It even asks me, Why didn’t you walk for such a short drive? My MapMyRide and Strava do the same thing: nag that today’s average speed was 11.5 rather than 12 miles an hour. There are more possibilities for this Black Box of road use: assess pre-crash data, document erratic behavior for solo deaths due to distraction, find stolen cars, find lost elders, parental tracking of kids, or track employee behaviors using company vehicles. These are individual issues.

Another secondary benefit is aggregate information that can assist policy decisions; where to spend money to ameliorate congestion, creating incentives for staggered employee arrivals, etc. Imagine plotting all the three-mile or shorter trips and find that people drove instead of walked due to poor lane crossings. OreGo can collect substantial information that could reveal community patterns not understood. It is a possibility that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) would see how widening roads may not be the answer when other options could pull those ‘three mile trip drivers’ away from large arterials.

The program is a good first step. Taxing real use catches up where gas consumption only tells the purchased gallons. But it comes up short as it still associates vehicles as primary users in defining road use. We still need to redefine transportation as including all users.

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Worries

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My worries are two-fold. Our information society has a generational information divide and this tax mechanism will confront this.

Uber is the perfect example in our transportation world: Once you click for a ride, you reveal where you are; once you engage the Driver, the Uber corporation knows your phone identity; once you tell the driver where you are going, the charges are reserved against your wallet capturing a financial portal; and of course your final destination is then the book end of this geo-location transaction. I find the fascinating part is that many have no qualms about revealing these data points, but enter a Snowden type of discussion on privacy with the government tracking you and American privacy hypocrisy rises up. People accept if corporations do inspect and track you, but not the government. People will want Waze (navigation phone app) to alert you to traffic jams, but do not want the government to track your whereabouts.

With this new structure for road tax revenue, there needs to be discussion about the allocation of tax dollars. We need to include Active Transportation as part of this discussion. Now is the time to evaluate so that the monies do not become a silo excluding Active Transportation. Wisely, we set up the Bike Bill to allow 1 percent of the state gas tax to funnel money toward bike paths (as they were called in 1971). This was when there were probably only 12 daily bicycle trips across the Hawthorne. Today we still have 1 percent of the money coming in for Active Transportation but we have 15,000 daily bike trips on the bridge.

We need to make sure that ODOT’s Road User Fee Task Force understands that the road is no longer a pavement industry. The road has a new definition regarding reduced traffic speed to reduce deaths, increased arterials for parents to bicycle their children to school and to shop; pedestrian crossings of 6 lanes on 181st; filling in 500 miles of unfinished sidewalks, creating electric bike pathways…on it goes. We have redefined the road. Will the task force be up to date?

And for me, I applaud the members of the Road User Task Force. I have surrendered my privacy to both MapMyRide and OReGo. I believe transportation arterials are public spaces. Having a device attached to each registered vehicle and measuring that vehicle’s use shows many new informational advantages. It could be an elegant simple tax scheme which is not about taxing a decreasing consumption of fuel, but is a tool with a sustainability viewpoint and purpose to tax the causes of pollution, congestion, and greater needed maintenance.

— Jerry Zelada

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98 Comments
  • Avatar
    Ted Timmons (Contributor) September 20, 2016 at 10:05 am

    I’ve had the Azuga OreGO for a while. It’s clear they haven’t been able to attract a lot of ‘beta testers’ to the program- they have never hit the limit.

    We’re about to cancel it for what may seem like an odd reason. It’s great to have data on their app and web dashboard, but our car (which sits in the garage aside from being used for carshare) was abused by a carshare user and Azuga couldn’t provide any more information. So we know the car was driven at 120mph and accelerated hard through downtown many times, but we couldn’t get any more granular information from Azuga on why, exactly, the transmission was destroyed. I was hoping they’d be able to give me something like a GPX log.

    If they are going to track every mile you travel, why can’t you get the data from it? It reminds me of the NSA joke- I’d be fine with the NSA collecting all my information if they offered free hard drive backup service.

    high speed abuse

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      9watts September 20, 2016 at 10:34 am

      Why can’t the rest of us get image linking privileges in the comments? 😉

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      Chris I September 20, 2016 at 10:48 am

      Thanks for the cautionary tale on P2P Carshare, as well. Did you feel like you were fairly compensated for the damages? How big of a hassle was it?

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        Ted Timmons (Contributor) September 20, 2016 at 11:11 am

        Getting compensated has been a huge hassle. Getaround wasn’t forthcoming with the abuse or their responsibility, they weren’t responsive, basically were dragging their feet through the whole process. We even sent a demand letter at one point so we could initiate Small Claims if necessary.

        It’s been over a month and we’re still waiting for some reimbursement. The lack of data from Getaround and Azuga has really disappointed me, and the slow responses removed the trust that is needed to use a sharing service like this. We’ll be stopping both services, the car will just collect dust in the garage now.

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          Kittens September 20, 2016 at 12:34 pm

          Sorry about that experience but how is it possible Getaround would be responsible for reimbursing you for your damages. Offloading responsiblity is is part of their model.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty September 20, 2016 at 1:13 pm

            You’ve been “shared”!

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            Ted Timmons (Contributor) September 21, 2016 at 2:41 pm

            Um, Kittens, because they specifically insure against what their users do? In other words, my private vehicle insurance is NOT used to cover renters.

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      J the Rake September 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      Ted I’m going to take a flying stab at this. Most, but not all, modern MVs keep track of the information you are looking for at least for a little while. If there is a fault code thrown then the system will save what’s happened prior as well. This is a boon for all sorts of things not the least of which is collision investigation. It isn’t much of a boon for owners though if the manufacturer can use it to point to a reason for a mechanical failure and thus a refusal to pay a warranty claim.

      In your specific case however this program is utilizing a very simple, single stat tracking device. They really are only trying to capture mileage. Too if your car is more than a couple of years old and not a high-end vehicle to start with then the only data the car would save is CEL codes anyway.

      Still you win the award to oddest reason to drop the program–what a bummer.

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        Ted Timmons (Contributor) September 21, 2016 at 2:40 pm

        No.

        It’s a GPS device that also talks to OBD-II. Very granular information is collected. What I’ve learned is very little information will be given to the user upon request.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 2:51 pm

          So they get your data, but you don’t???

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          bjorn September 21, 2016 at 5:50 pm

          my understanding was that the gps data was quickly used to determine if you should be charged or not and then fairly soon after destroyed in an attempt to reduce the privacy concerns, are you sure it stores all gps data long term?

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            Ted Timmons (Contributor) September 21, 2016 at 7:08 pm

            I didn’t ask if they stored it long term. I asked for it within 24 hours. I was told nothing was available- though I can see maps of my tracklogs going back months, they wouldn’t provide me with any raw data.

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    9watts September 20, 2016 at 10:08 am

    “because the consumption of this resource is declining and will decline even further as auto and light truck efficiency increases and electric car numbers increase.”

    Really? I wonder how the Germans are able to raise 53 billion Euros/yr, fully 3x what it costs them to maintain their unbelievable transportation infrastructure, with gas and related auto taxes, none of which involve privacy invasion or electronics?
    Making broad brush statements about the limitations of a gas tax, without qualifying what you mean by a gas tax (rate, indexed to inflation, rising over time, etc.) is meaningless, or worse.

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    9watts September 20, 2016 at 10:13 am

    “It could be an elegant simple tax scheme which is not about taxing a decreasing consumption of fuel”

    Why do you say decreasing? Have you seen it decrease of late? I mean it is sure to decrease soon enough, but there is nothing preventing us from ramping up the tax on the fuel that is still consumed to either raise revenue (see rest of world) or discourage discretionary auto use.

    And as as for elegantly simple, Mary Olson, formerly on the OTC, disagrees with you:

    “The gas tax is a perfect tax. It’s not invasive on the person using it and it requires very little effort on the agency that depends on that money for providing services…Trying to replace that is really difficult, because anything you try to do is so much more complicated than just pulling up to the pump and paying for gas.”
    http://bikeportland.org/2015/12/04/black-friday-gas-taxes-soup-du-jour-169397

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    Allan Rudwick September 20, 2016 at 10:24 am

    This sort of system only seems good if we’re going to force everyone to use it and do a congestion-based cost/mile. Otherwise why bother.

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    Bjorn September 20, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I considered signing up for the program but then I did the math and realized that I would pay more than I did in gas tax because my car had above average fuel efficiency, unless they attach a multiplier to this for the size/weight of the vehicle it becomes a subsidy for people who drive large trucks on the backs of people who drive small fuel efficent cars.

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      9watts September 20, 2016 at 10:31 am

      See…. and there we go.
      Why spend so much time and energy fine tuning square wheels, when round wheels were invented long ago?

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      Chris I September 20, 2016 at 11:05 am

      Bingo. If implemented as configured presently, this tax would be nothing but a handout to larger, less-efficient vehicle operators. It would encourage citizens to drive vehicles that pollute more, and are more damaging to our roads.

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    ed September 20, 2016 at 10:49 am

    An unaddressed issue here is the motorist whose mileage is mostly done out of state. While one could argue that mileage is mileage and should be taxed it seems unfair to state where mileage is being accumulated. Biggest problem with a mileage tax though is basic unfairness. Fuel efficiency must be factored and favored. It’s just not right that a Hummer driver who gets 10 miles per gallon should pay the same as a ultra efficient user whose car gets 45 MPG. This does not accomplish what we want. If gas tax revenues drop too low due to decreased consumption (what we want after all) the rate could go up. But a mileage tax that favors and subsidizes the worst kinds of motor vehicles is NOT the answer.

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      9watts September 20, 2016 at 10:56 am

      This.

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      Ted Timmons (Contributor) September 20, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Only in-state miles are taxed. Azuga is a little GPS tracker, basically.

      There are still issues with gas guzzlers, of course.

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      Bald One September 20, 2016 at 11:27 am

      It was the answer for me. With enrollment in the OreGo program and the coming gas tax increase, we decided to buy a used H1 Hummer (it still has all the extra modified armor plating on it, which makes it even more awesome!) for our many short trips around town and also for our commute to Eugene for school 3x per week. With the Orego system, we are paying tax on about 3% of the gas we use.

      On weekends, we drive our old diesel rig that we fill up at the un-taxed cardlock commercial station with diesel. So, we can roll-coal tax-free. What a hoot!

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      DaveB September 22, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      The Azuga device knows when you’re driving out of state so those miles don’t count against you.

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    9watts September 20, 2016 at 11:23 am

    “I am still opposed to taxing a resource rather than taxing actual use.”

    I would love for you to spell this out a bit, AJZ. As I understand it when we tax gasoline we are taxing the direct consumption of that resource, or I suppose you could call it actual use. How is a computer that sits in your car a more accurate or more useful approach? Given the disparities in fuel consumption across the spectrum of vehicles we know, never mind the border effects others have mentioned, I’m having trouble following your logic.

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      GlowBOy September 20, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      The gas tax is the perfect mechanism.
      – If you drive more, you pay more.
      – If you drive aggressively, you pay more.
      – If you drive a larger vehicle – which not only takes up more space in the transportation system, but incurs a wide variety of other societal costs, including disproportionately endangering others – you pay more.

      The only thing wrong with it is that it is too low.

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        GlowBOy September 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm

        I’ll add a couple benefits of the gas tax:
        – Consuming fuel causes environmental harm, both in terms of the emissions when it’s burned and in its extraction, production and transportation. The more environmental harm your fuel use is causing, the more you pay.
        – Because of a phenomenon economists call Elasticity (without which markets would not work), gas prices will not go up the full amount of the tax. Since the producers can’t pass the entire cost of the tax on to consumers, they have to eat a big chunk of it themselves. Want to stick it to the oil companies? This is how.

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          Eric Leifsdad September 20, 2016 at 1:52 pm

          “But if we tax the thing we don’t want people to use and they stop using it so much, we’ll bring in less money than if they used it more?” Why is this presented as an argument against a gas tax? This kind of ill logic and bad math will kill us all. Tax gasoline into oblivion and when the revenue finally drops too low, add another tax on something like tires. It’s not about the resources so much as paying for the harm and wear from their use.

          And this business about not getting “tax income for active transportation needs” — what needs do we have besides the ones created by people driving cars? The first thing a road and/or gas tax should pay for is the needs of everyone not moving the big machines around at high speeds (and it should fairly be paid by the people moving the big machines around at high speeds because without them we wouldn’t have a problem.)

          Tax the problem, not the solution?

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            paikiala September 21, 2016 at 10:20 am

            Further,
            I’ve not seen the same argument against sin taxes, where eliminating the consumption of alcohol and tobacco is considered a health good. I get that autos can, and will, switch to less polluting forms of energy (so not disappear), but in the meantime CO2, NOX and SOX production are part of the problem to be solved, beyond the mixing of incompatible modes of transportation.

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        Gary B September 20, 2016 at 1:11 pm

        -…unless you drive an electric vehicle
        -…unless you drive an electric vehicle
        -…unless you drive an electric vehicle

        Electric vehicles are not the only imperfection of the gas tax, of course, but it’s the most obvious. And of course you’ll say they are a small share, but that’s the whole point of looking at this issue now.

        Gas tax is far from “perfect.” It may be the best option at this moment, but this is a pilot program meant to figure out if and how a direct-consumption (of all driving resources, not just gas) tax could work, and to figure out ways to make it work better.

        Lots of comparisons between the current pilot program and the gas tax wholly miss the point.

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          Chris I September 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm

          Solution: keep the gas tax. Any registered vehicles that do not use taxed fuel have to use the mileage tax system. This would capture electric, hydrogen, and CNG vehicles. Since we don’t have electric SUVs yet, the weight-mile part is not necessary.

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          ed September 20, 2016 at 6:16 pm

          Yes, but for now anyway we want to encourage electric car use for bigger reasons obviously than just funding infrastructure. Give them a tax break – for awhile. When gas vehicles are mostly going or gone we can cross that bridge. Meanwhile if you choose a gas guzzler it’s unconscionable that you’d may no more than a smart car or other more environmentally responsible vehicle.

          In addition to revenue we’re also trying to influence behavior and choices. Doesn’t need to be said this is why we have high tax on cigarettes and such. This is THE fundamental problem with a mileage tax. The tax should be on use and consumption. The only problem with gas tax is, as said elsewhere, it’s way too low – but still fairest, easiest, least intrusive and most comprehensive way to tax vehicle use.

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            JeffS September 20, 2016 at 10:37 pm

            They’re already getting their tax break via the income-tax credit.

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        9watts September 20, 2016 at 8:02 pm

        This OreGo scheme = solution looking for a problem.

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    B. Carfree September 20, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Gas taxes are great. Generally, heavier vehicles do much more road damage than light vehicles and also use more fuel. The biggest problem is the introduction of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Why can’t we dramatically raise the gas tax and simultaneously require electric and plug-in hybrids to use the OreGo system?

    Of course the answer is that motorists outnumber nonmotorists and they want to continue their free ride. Still, I’d rather have that honest discussion and fail than try to sneak OreGo into place in spite of it creating perverse new subsidies for heavier motor vehicles.

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    Bald One September 20, 2016 at 11:44 am

    OreGo is one of the worst pieces of policy/legislation ever. It capitulates to the kind of spineless tax policy, lack of courage for real change, and whining about electric cars (and bicycles) not paying their fair share that is everything wrong with gas tax and auto policy at Oregon state level. We need a progressive system that rewards high mileage, low fuel use, and electric / alternative fuel vehicles with lower taxes and use fees in order to stimulate purchase and interest in these types of vehicles. Wait, that would be like significantly raising the state-wide gas tax, which was not done last session. The Orego system was yet another excuse not to do this. The whole program needs to either end, or become regressive with respect to vehicle weight and stated EPA mileage.

    All road users should pay combined tax consisting of a weight-mile style road use tax based on vehicle weight and miles driven, a pollution tax based on their vehicle’s actual DEQ tailpipe data (all vehicles, no exceptions!), and a simple gas tax at the pump from all the local and state taxing authorities. These three things together would provide incentive for less driving, smaller cars, cleaner vehicles, and could also provide a tax system for the non gas-burning vehicles like EVs and even bikes.

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      Kittens September 20, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      But it gives you badges!!!

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty September 20, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    The only people who currently have an incentive to sign up for this are people whose cars get poor mileage and don’t care that the government can track them.

    I see no reason why the gas tax cannot continue to work for at least another decade, probably longer. The real problem may be the political difficulty associated with even small increases in the gas tax. But then that same difficulty would apply to increasing a road tax as well.

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    Jon September 20, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    This is the perfect tax for people who like to roll coal. Let’s make sure to encourage people to drive the least efficient vehicles via a per mile tax instead of a consumption based gas tax. NOT!

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    Kittens September 20, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Not buying it! Though the early adopters are eager to have another app nag them to drive better and make green choices, the vast majority of users would be unhappy with the invasion of privacy this necessitates. I am not some rabid libertarian Gary Johnson supporter, but even the appearance of the government having such personal information is a bridge too far.

    There are plenty of other ways to get more money for roads. Having a gps OBD 2 dongle is just another typical example from the tech-industrial complex to mine more data for their benefit. Once the information is gathered there’s no putting it back in the bottle.

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    Gary B September 20, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I don’t understand people that are saying this is terrible because it’s per-mile and incentivizes poor efficiency vehicles. It’s a PILOT program. They’re demonstrating the ability to tax on a mileage basis. Any such actual tax could easily factor in a vehicle’s weight, or other appropriate measures.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 20, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      It’s a terrible idea because the government tracks my movement and driving behavior and there are not strict laws in place that require the data to be destroyed. Or even not collected — the app could send a total dollar amount to the tax collector, and keep my data locally — encrypted — where I could delete it if I chose.

      How long until I’m caught up in some dragnet because my car was in the same area in which a crime was committed? Opt into that? No thank you.

      (Ironically, the most-hated IRS has a lot of info about me, and they seem to handle it more-or-less responsibly, so far as we know.)

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        paikiala September 21, 2016 at 10:27 am

        HK,
        The older I get, the less value I see in ‘privacy’. Many of the ills of our current world cultures could plausibly be linked to the ability to hide information. What is considered ‘normal’ is one clear area, not to mention the most recent financial malfeasance (maybe the area with the most evidence, historically), and then there is the political realm.
        Imagine there’s no borders…

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 10:50 am

          Would you please send me your email login and password, a list of your favorite pornography sites, and the keys to your house? I promise I won’t take anything, I just want to look around.

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            paikiala September 21, 2016 at 3:33 pm

            Security and privacy are not the same thing.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 3:39 pm

              I think you get my point. You have things you don’t want to share, and rightfully so.

              Also, how do you get security without privacy?

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                Alex Reedin September 21, 2016 at 10:03 pm

                By having the third parties who have access to one’s information use strong security protocols and oversight?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 10:09 pm

          Also: Privacy is recognized as a fundamental human right by the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

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      Bald One September 20, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      If the state ran hundreds, or even dozens, of pilot programs, we would not worry and expect that this OreGo pilot program would end up where it belongs – in the dustbin of history. But, they do not run a lot of pilot programs, and this one has been pushed forward by the state level policy makers as a solution to much hand-wringing about the alarming growth of electric vehicles and held up as a solution to the sorry state of state roads. They want it to become law. This is a red herring. Add to it the fact that our state legislature sat on their hands when it came to raising the gas tax, after nearly everyone expected them to pass it. This OreGo was one of the distractions (other was thanks to Sylvia Hayes) that fostered inaction on the gas tax increase that everyone knows is needed and inevitable.

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    m September 20, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    There will be a time in the not too distant future when the majority of cars on the road are electric. This program, with all of its hiccups, is attempting to deal with that reality. Analysis of this issue should be viewed through that lens.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 20, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Read my odometer once a year and send me a bill. Let my car track my driving and report a dollar amount to the tax assessor, without releasing my driving details. Tax electricity used to power cars. Tax carbon (which would give a free pass to those charging their cars with solar, but maybe that’s ok for a while).

      There are other, less invasive options.

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        m September 20, 2016 at 1:50 pm

        Good luck collecting/enforcing an annual bill for people. The number of non-compliant people would be off the charts for not properly saving for this expense. There’s a reason banks like to include property taxes as part of monthly mortgage payments. Start seizing cars as a penalty? Ugh.

        Tax electricity use for just cars? They can be plugged into ANY outlet.

        It’s far from perfect right now but VMT (hopefully with congestion pricing) is coming. Count on it.

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          Bald One September 20, 2016 at 2:28 pm

          Not too far out of the world of possibility. You go to the DEQ, get tailpipe tested, have your odometer read, and then they simulate a tax bill based on the weight of your car, the amount pollution it makes (EV, fuel efficient, gas guzzler, etc), and the expected or average mileage you plan to drive and give you an annual, or bi-annual highway tax bill. You sign up for equal pay with an auto monthly payment or pay it all at once – not different from your auto insurance, your gas bill, etc. At next visit or end of year, any difference from odometer actual reading is refunded or rolled forward to next year. Any sale transaction with DMV requires transfer of highway tax liability to new owners account or closure with sale out of state.

          Simple and also relies on existing systems and technologies that we have in place, not some new shiny toy that some corporate lobbyist convinced someone at ODOT to pilot program that will be obsolete or hacked in 3 years.

          Actual tailpipe testing and tax assessment based on this, will promote people to keep their cars’ emissions in order, and catch anyone who’s driving a prius with a dead battery pack, or a Jetta with a bogus EPA statement. Maintain some gas tax in place at the pump for out of staters. Apply this same method also to trucks and other currently exempt vehicles.

          Clean the air and fix the roads at the same time.

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            m September 20, 2016 at 2:47 pm

            electric cars don’t have tail pipes and most of the state doesn’t have DEQ.

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            m September 20, 2016 at 2:54 pm

            That said, I believe there has been at least some talk of setting up stations at DMV stations or utlilizing gas/charging stations as a possibility. It would be nice to give people an option. Younger folks are growing up with different privacy expectations (for better or worse) such that I suspect it may be mostly moot over time.

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        Bjorn September 20, 2016 at 2:59 pm

        That actually won’t work in this case because it is not legal for Oregon to tax someone on a per mile driven basis if those miles are driven in another state, like Washington, hence the necessity of the gps device to determine mileage driven within the state.

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    Eric Leifsdad September 20, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Besides making math teachers weep, what does this accomplish? What if there were a device in every car that counted miles driven and we could pay a multiple of that and GVW each year? Odometer. Or just tax tires? Want to check gps to see if you’re driving aggressively? Smartphone app. Want to waste taxpayer money? OreGo!

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      Bjorn September 20, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      The reason for the device rather than an odometer is that the state is only legally allowed to tax miles that are driven within the state of Oregon, they can’t tax miles driven in washington anymore than they can levy a tax on gas sold in Washington.

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        Eric Leifsdad September 20, 2016 at 11:32 pm

        Yay, it’s a federal matter. It could still be done in a far less invasive way, even an honor system (and send your tax for out-of-state miles to that state.) And maybe border odometer checkpoints would make biking from WA more popular.

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    peejay September 20, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    I’m a long time member of the “don’t give up on the gas tax” club, for all the reasons explained above. My old “tax the price and not the quantity” idea may look foolish at the moment, but how much longer will this artificial dip in the price of gas last? Eventually, the declining resource will become expensive again, but we should lock in the switch now, so it will be politically expedient. When the price skyrockets, so will gas tax revenue!

    Full electric cars should pay by the mile, of course.

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    Bald One September 20, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Not to mention that a system involving a physical device dongle and a software package may have a strong tendency to play out with the state getting held hostage by some corporation: just think a mashup of the Oracle – Cover Oregon fiasco meets the new iPhone dropping the headphone jack.

    Any new system needs to account for weight of the vehicle and specific pollution generated by the vehicle. Not just a generic miles traveled. Any new system needs to create a financial incentive to drive less, pollute less, damage the road less.

    When even a small percentage (say 10%) of the cars on the road are 100% electric (not for at least 10 years), we can look at looping them back into a tax. Maybe the state, in the interest of equity, can just ask all of these Tesla owners to make a donation to the state highway fund.

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    J_R September 20, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Others have already identified many of the disadvantages of the GPS-based system versus the gas tax, including rewarding inefficient vehicles, privacy, etc. Let me add a few more.

    I’ve personally experienced my GPS and my phone showing my location more than a few miles from my actual location. One of those times was when I was riding on the C & O Canal Trail and my phone showed me being in Virginia rather than Maryland. The GPS unit in my car occasionally shows a location two blocks from where I am and on three or four occasions per year has had me off by two to five miles. Maybe things are better with improved cell phone coverage and newer GPS units, but I’m not convinced the system will accurately reflect in-state and out-of-state mileage. Even if it did, how would it account for the gas you bought?

    The administrative costs of the existing gas tax are really, really low. That’s because it is collected at the wholesale level and there are few wholesalers in the state. A pay-by-the mile system basically turns every vehicle owner into a payor, even if it’s only to check to make that the consumer gets credit for out-of-state mileage or gas purchased out of state. At various times, either my wife or I commuted to Washington for months at a time. Certainly there would be some paperwork that we’d fill out and someone would have to check so we could get credits. How expensive would that be? It’s definitely going to cost more than the current system.

    With regard to electric vehicles, federal and state tax credits are used to encourage their purchase by reducing income taxes. The federal tax credit is up to $7500. So, now we’re going to implement a completely new system to get 1.5 cents back from them for every mile they drive? That original $7500 will be recovered in just 500,000 miles. Why don’t we do away with the tax credit and simply say to purchasers “by this car and the big financial benefit you get is ‘you don’t pay road use taxes’?

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    J_R September 20, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Also, idea that there have been significant increases in fuel economy of the vehicle fleet leading to a loss in the ability to build good stuff is a myth.

    I like to use 1993 as the base year for my analysis because that was the last year in which the federal gas tax was increased (to 18.4 cents per gallon). In 1993, the overall efficiency of the light duty vehicle fleet was 19.2 mpg. By 2014, the last year for which I can find data, the fleet mileage was up to 21.4 mph. That’s a whopping 11.5 percent increase in 22 years! Wow! One half of one percent increase each year!

    For comparison, the Corps of Engineers’ Construction Cost Index rose almost 70 percent. The loss of revenue from improved fuel economy is a tiny fraction of the loss of ability to build stuff (like sidewalks and bikeways) due to inflation.

    Here’s my source on fuel economy:

    http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_04_23.html

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    resopmok September 20, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    A mileage based tax should take into account the weight of a vehicle and the subsequent damage it causes the road. Ostensibly the money is used for maintenance of concrete, asphalt, paint, signals, etc., where the consumption of fuel is not really an issue. The gas tax seems more appropriate when fuel-efficiency is a desired outcome. Therefore if we want to reduce pollution AND maintain roads, having both taxes simultaneously is the best option.

    The question of privacy raised by OreGo’s very thorough data collection process should not be underestimated. Our society is still reeling from the effects of behavioral data analysis used to target advertising on the internet. I believe there are many who would balk at the idea of letting the government track their every movement. If a mileage based tax were truly a consideration, I think it wise to explore options which might be less intrusive as well as adaptable to older vehicles which may lack plug-in technology.

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      9watts September 20, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      “Ostensibly the money is used for maintenance of concrete, asphalt, paint, signals, etc., where the consumption of fuel is not really an issue.”

      I would argue there is no bigger issue than the consumption of fossil fuels. Phasing that out (not just reducing it) is or should be our highest priority if we hope to leave a habitable planet for ourselves never mind our offspring, should we have chosen to have any.

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        resopmok September 20, 2016 at 6:41 pm

        You are correct that the consumption of fossil fuels is an issue that humanity needs to address, but pollution is not the cause of road deterioration. In a world where all vehicles were powered by electricity (and all the electricity were derived from solar or renewable resources), roads would still deteriorate under the loads imposed by the vehicles driven on them. It is most logical then to fund maintenance by miles driven with a weight-derived coefficient.

        Discouraging the use of fossil fuels by taxing them is also a good idea, and is why I suggested we do that as well. Barring misinformation on my part, the gas tax does not produce enough money to fully fund road maintenance as it stands. The additional income that a mileage based tax could produce might allow the state to free up income tax derived funds to be put to other uses, such as education or health care. Why do I keep hearing that we must go one way or the other?

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          9watts September 20, 2016 at 6:57 pm

          “the gas tax does not produce enough money to fully fund road maintenance as it stands.”
          As J_R and others have pointed out, the puny rate of our gas tax is not and should not be held against the concept. Give it some milk to drink so it can grow up and become strong like the German or Italian or Danish or Norwegian gas tax.

          “The additional income that a mileage based tax could produce might allow the state to free up income tax derived funds to be put to other uses, such as education or health care. Why do I keep hearing that we must go one way or the other?”

          Well the part that irks me that I keep hearing is that for some reason (oft not stated) the gas tax is unraisable. We heard this from everyone here a few years back in the midst of the Street Fee debacle. Then we raised it by ten cents. Not enough by an order of magnitude, but apparently the largest jump here in the US for pretty much any municipality (I think I learned this hear recently).

          I am all for multiple sources of revenue from those who drive. But the logic by which we are encouraged to consider Zelada’s idea in the presence of a much simpler but languishing gas tax simply doesn’t add up. Lets walk before we run.

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            JeffS September 20, 2016 at 10:42 pm

            I’m with you 100%, but you know many would decry it as regressive.

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              9watts September 20, 2016 at 10:51 pm

              Yes.
              But I think the regressivity complaint tends to focus on the distribution of costs as imagined over the short term, rather than the distribution of benefits (alternatives to the car, possibility for credits or redistribution, etc.). The Bloomberg chart showing that the average household in a country with the highest gas taxes pay the lowest share of their income on motor fuel and those with the lowest gas taxes pay among the largest share of their income on motor fuel illustrates this I think.
              http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/gas-prices/

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty September 20, 2016 at 11:09 pm

              A road tax would be equally regressive.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty September 20, 2016 at 11:09 pm

          If the gas tax doesn’t raise enough money, raise the tax.

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            paikiala September 21, 2016 at 10:31 am

            and enable its use for ‘person and goods transportation’, not just automobile transportation.

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      J the Rake September 21, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      I am a huge fan of combining these two units of measure and creating a road use (and abuse) tax. It is the only fair way for everyone to participate in paying for the system we all benefit from.

      GVWR is a given and while the administration of it would be more work for the state every time a vehicle is registered a mileage check could be made and taxed. In most new cars the car is already capturing the miles driven (and so much more) anyway so perhaps that becomes a electronic transmittal question. For those who balk at the privacy concerns they are out of luck as this genie is out of the bottle as manufactures and LE use this information everyday.

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    Cory P September 20, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I looked into this when it started. I have a long commute and as a result put a lot of miles on my car. I also dive a very fuel efficient car. When I did the math my tax burden would double under the pilot program. It punishes me for driving an efficient car. It rewards people driving gas guzzlers blowing by me on the freeway at 80 MPH. I will not voluntarily move to this system. Registration fees for electric cars can take care of that loop hole.
    But the lawmakers need to grow some spine and pass a much higher gas tax to solve the problems we have now.

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    bikeninja September 21, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I would go a step further with these devices and not just allow the rich to pay to pollute and cause global warming but include a cut-off where after a set amount of C02 is emitted the car is shut down untill the next month. If we are going to get serious about not being destroyed by climate change we can’t just allow those with money to buy their way out of changing their bad habits.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 10:44 am

      Why not? We find this acceptable in other areas where we apply taxes to reduce consumption: for example cigarettes and alcohol. In fact, in those cases, it would make more sense from a policy perspective to limit consumption by an individual than it does in the case of carbon.

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        bikeninja September 21, 2016 at 11:09 am

        Cigarettes and alcohol are not the same as C02, they are personally distructive but not necessarily destructive of non participants ( yes exceptions like DWI). In the case of C02 we now know we need to curtail it drastically and do so immediatly or non-drivers and future inhabitants of the earth will face the consequences so the example of “paying for sin” is not good enough.

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          9watts September 21, 2016 at 11:13 am

          “the example of ‘paying for sin’ is not good enough.”

          but it is a pretty good start, no?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 11:15 am

          Yes, exactly. Their personally destructive nature would make arguing for hard per-person limits easier. CO2 has a collective destructive power, so it doesn’t matter who reduces their use, so long as it gets done.

          From an economic POV, a simple tax on carbon fits the bill precisely (simply increase the tax until emissions fall to the target level), while it is a less good fit for alcohol and tobacco (where, one could argue, higher taxes favor the poor by reducing their consumption more drastically than their rich brethren).

          To be clear, I am not making that last argument, but I find it an interesting way to think about the issue.

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    Kyle Banerjee September 21, 2016 at 10:33 am

    This has been a boondoggle from the beginning. The gas tax is simple, easy to administrate, and does a decent job of balancing different interests (the more you drive and the bigger your vehicle, the more you pay).

    This, on the other hand, is a classic case of what I call “measure with micrometer, mark with chalk, cut with axe.” There is no practical way to deploy it and it has to be run parallel with the existing system unless we want to give a free ride to anyone who drives in from elsewhere. You can bet people will find ways to tamper with the technology. And given the state’s track record with technology projects, I think it’s fair to say that the chances of them even getting it nominally working are close to zero.

    Call me crazy, but if they need more money, it might be easier to adjust the gas tax to account for inflation and even higher mileage cars. Demand driven tolls could raise money and manage load in high use zones (which would even get electrics). Speaking of which, the electrics are a distraction as they’re way too small a factor to worry about now. May as well go after farmers for moving their rigs along the road while burning off road diesel. Besides, and electrics need to be encouraged if we want electric infrastructure built out

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      m September 21, 2016 at 10:50 am

      It’s an incubator system that is intending to be pro-actice about an issue we know is coming.The electric car will be much more than a “distraction” soon enough. Systems like this take time to develop. Definitely not a “boondoggle” in my view.

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        9watts September 21, 2016 at 10:57 am

        “Definitely not a ‘boondoggle’ in my view.”

        O.K. let me ask you then, what in your estimation is going to fuel this fleet?

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 10:54 am

      I agree with this posting entirely. A Obi-Wan once said: “This is not the solution you are looking for.”

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    GlowBOy September 21, 2016 at 11:51 am

    If we’re sooooooo convinced EVs will be so dominant within a few years as to make fuel taxes obsolete, then the solution is to tax the electricity used to charge electric vehicles. All EV charging stations would meter the electricity (most of them are “smart” and already do) and add a per-kWh surcharge to the owner’s electric bill.

    This would not be difficult or expensive to implement, since many homes already have “smart meters” and utilities have the ability to bill different rates based on time/purpose of use.

    This would also leave in place some of the beautiful things about the gas tax, namely that it penalizes fast/aggressive driving and larger vehicles more. Believe me, battery-powered Suburbans and F-250s are around the corner, and they’re going to put a lot more burden on the grid than Nissan Leafs.

    Some will point out that you can charge EVs on 120V, which would be impossible to tax. True enough. But even a “small” EV takes overnight to charge on 120V, and most of today’s EV owners have already opted to spend a grand or two installing a 240V charging station. I’m guessing we’ll still be able to meter and tax most of the electricity used to charge vehicles, and even though we probably can’t close that loophole it probably won’t matter.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 11:55 am

    >>> Believe me, battery-powered Suburbans and F-250s are around the corner, and they’re going to put a lot more burden on the grid than Nissan Leafs. <<<

    Untrue! The studded tires on my Suburban lift the vehicle gently off the ground, preventing damage to the road.

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      J the Rake September 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Which is why they offer reduced traction in nearly all driving conditions. It sure makes sense to allow something that is unsafe most of the time just because it is slightly safer a couple of days of the year. Ah the logic of political contributions from a gigantic tire retailer begin to make sense.

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    Oregon Economist September 21, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    As the beginning of this article points out, OreGo is really a pilot project for congestion pricing – charging people based on the time of day, location, and roadway they are on. For congestion pricing to work, the price must be high enough to discourage people from using the roadway. Variable tolls intended to reduce congestion on highways in metropolitan Seattle have reached over $10 per trip at times to create free-flowing conditions in toll lanes.

    I believe that limiting people’s mobility based on their income/wealth is morally repugnant. In a world of congestion pricing, the rich can afford to make a frivolous trip in their car during rush hour while the poor are forced on the bus. The cost to travel affects not only your transportation mode for a particular trip, but it also affects where you choose to live, work, go to school, etc.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      I would suggest the number of people who would not at least on some level balk at $10 for a frivolous trip is small. Most people who have money did not get it by spending it willy-nilly. Of course, when we think of “rich people” we think of Paris Hilton and her ilk, but they are really a caricature, and represent a minuscule slice of America.

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    Rob September 21, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Fuel consumption is a very good measure of the mass of vehicles and miles traveled which are proportional to road wear and capacity. So fuel efficiency is a virtue to be rewarded by a per gallon fuel tax.

    The author’s vehicle tracking system does not consider vehicle mass at all, the per-mile tax is the same for a GoCar and a one ton pickup carrying a ton of gravel.

    For electric vehicles, a charging tax is efficient and easy to implement. And it is proportional to vehicle mass and miles traveled.

    The author’s proposal is a massive and expensive data collection project in search of funding for big data research for its own sake, not efficient road maintenance. I would wager Oracle would love to get the contract!

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    JC September 21, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    (My apologies if this has already been mentioned; there are quite a few comments here!) I already use a plug in device from Allstate that records my driving habits and gives me a discount based on how safely and how little I drive. I don’t see how I could also participate in this program unless Allstate shared the data.

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      q`Tzal September 21, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Odds are a OBD port splitter exists (to allow multiple OBD monitoring devices for a single vehicle) but have been in low demand for the general public until recently.

      It is just a data monitoring port: read only. Any issues with mote than one device being hooked up has more to do with low data signal voltage or very little physical room where the device is crammed.

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    q`Tzal September 21, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    The sad thing is that a rough cell tower location within a ¼ mile is more than sufficiently accurate to allocate a per-mile road use revenue stream to each responsible district. GPS is simply overkill for nearly every application AND the mere utterance of “GPS tracking” gets everyone’s privacy ire burning.

    All a DOT actually needs is what road and how heavy: everything else is over reach that dooms the project to fears of Big Brother surveillance.

    We need a weight-per-mile road use fee. Need… Bad.

    We won’t have reasonable minimalist data collection standards until after a jurisdiction has collected a boatload of private data…
    Which then is hacked…
    Then used to defraud citizens…
    Leading to a lawsuit against the jurisdiction…
    And finally strict data collection standards that start with “(1) What isn’t collected can’t be stollen.”

    Or they could just get a clue now and not build a Ferrari to drive to the local post office.

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  • A. J. Zelada
    A. J. Zelada September 21, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    FU from today’s meetings:

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/Sept%202016%20Meeting%20Materials/ItemF_RUCEconomicReport.pdf
    and
    https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/ORDOT/bulletins/165f46a

    Thanks to everyone who responded. Fascinating how small percent comments were on pollutants from gasoline products and use. Perhaps that has just become passe. Thank you for responding. AJZ

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      9watts September 21, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      FU?

      I always thought that was kind a rude response, but perhaps this is some new internet slang I haven’t caught up with yet?

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  • A. J. Zelada
    A. J. Zelada September 21, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Regrets, I am used to using FU for Follow Up in my patient notes. Apologies for my brevity.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 21, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      I use it to mean something different entirely…

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      9watts September 21, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      Ah, thanks for clarifying.

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      JAT in Seattle September 22, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Ha – I use it in the internal time entry notes I have to file so my employer is confident I’m not just twiddling my thumbs – but I use it in both senses of the abbreviation!

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