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

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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Oregon prepares to launch its opt-in test of a vehicle mileage tax

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
PDX Bike Swarm - ALEC F29 protests-15

A Bike Swarm ride passes a Portland gas station in 2012.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Oregon keeps inching toward its goal of replacing or supplementing the gas tax it invented, back in 1919, with a Prius-proof mileage tax.

Next July 1, the first 5,000 volunteer drivers will get a chance to opt out of gas tax and into a so-called “usage charge.” As the state gets ready for that test, a meeting in Portland this Monday will be the last stop on a statewide tour to gather input about the concept.

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Oregon looks beyond gas tax as mileage-based tax evolves

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Sample receipt
showing VMT charge.
(Graphic: ODOT)

At all levels of government, transportation officials are running scared due to a severe lack of funding available to maintain and improve our roads. The major reason for all this anxiety is the failure of the gas tax to evolve with the times. Truly a “dinosaur” of a funding mechanism, the gas tax hasn’t kept up with inflation, and it is dwindling as Americans drive fewer miles and cars become more fuel-efficient (and electrified in some cases).

While it’s widely accepted we must move beyond the gas tax; no one has figured out a way to do it. Until now.

It turns out the State of Oregon has been working on this for over a decade and they’re on the verge of some major breakthroughs that could lead to implementation of a mileage-based tax system by 2014.

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