Below are some common questions about road usage charge. If you don’t see your question here, look at the frequently asked questions related to the 2012-13 pilot project or submit your comment to the project team.
(Click on the question below to be taken to the answer or scroll down the page.)
- 1. What is the Road Usage Charge Program (RUCP)?
- 2. Who does the RUCP impact?
- 3. Why is Oregon implementing the RUCP?
- 4. Is this another tax on top of the gas tax?
- 5. How did the 2012-13 pilot project work?
- 6. What about a flat fee?
- 7. Why don’t you just increase the gas tax?
- 8. Aren’t drivers with studded tires causing most damage to our roads?
- 9. Why not charge vehicles by weight instead?
- 10. Wouldn’t a road usage charge punish electric vehicle owners?
- 11. Wouldn’t a road usage charge put an unfair financial burden on rural drivers?
- 12. Who is providing ODOT with policy input on this new system?
1. What is the Road Usage Charge Program (RUCP)?
The Road Usage Charge Program, or RUCP, as mandated by the passage of Senate Bill 810, authorizes the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to assess a per-mile charge for voluntary drivers of up to 5,000 cars and light commercial vehicles participating in the program. A gas tax refund (where applicable) is issued to participants. This program will start by July 1, 2015.
After two successful pilot demonstrations in 2007 and 2012, the RUCP is now law and a permanent program in Oregon. The program:
• Allows Oregon volunteers who are owners and lessees of certain vehicles to pay a road usage charge in lieu of the gas tax
• Sets that road usage charge at 1.5 cents per mile
• Requires a refund of gas tax paid
• Establishes restrictions and criteria for safeguarding of personally identifiable information
2. Who does the RUCP impact?
After July 1, 2015 ODOT approved volunteers will pay the road usage charge when the system is operational; no other drivers will be impacted. Total participants are not to exceed 5,000. No more than 1,500 may have a vehicle rating greater than 17 mpg, and no more than 1,500 may have a vehicle rating of at least 17 mpg and less than 22 mpg. If you are interested in getting involved with this program, please join the mailing list to get updates as the program moves forward.
3. Why is Oregon implementing the RUCP?
Highly fuel-efficient vehicles are taking to the road in increasing numbers, in Oregon and across the country. This is important for protecting the environment and reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, but it also reduces funding available for road maintenance.
Historically, states (and the federal government) derived money to pay for upkeep of roads in large part through a tax on fuel. If vehicles using the road don’t visit the pump (for example, because they are all-electric), or they very rarely need to because they get high miles per gallon of fuel, then the owners of those cars are, unfortunately, not paying their portion of upkeep for the roads they use. The RUCP establishes a funding model of direct payment for roads used, based on miles traveled.
4. Is this another tax on top of the gas tax?
No. The road usage charge program would replace the state gas tax for volunteer drivers that are part of the program (must be approved by ODOT). These volunteers will not pay the state gas tax. The 2012-13 pilot participants received a credit for the gas tax they paid at the pump.
5. How did the 2012-13 pilot project work?
6. What about a flat fee?
While a uniform flat rate is a viable option that is simple, it is not fair to all drivers. The flat rate paid by people who drive very little would subsidize those who drive a lot. While the Oregon legislature determines how to provide a sustainable transportation funding stream, the 2012/13 pilot project tested one way to fill the gap between needed funds for Oregon’s roads and the declining state gas tax revenues.
7. Why don’t you just increase the gas tax?
While the gas tax could continue to be raised to meet demand for roadway improvements, the gas tax system will never charge all road users fairly for their use of Oregon’s roads. Drivers of electric vehicles, hybrids, and other fuel-efficient cars will always pay less for their road use than drivers of less fuel-efficient cars. A typical hybrid car has nearly the exact impact to roads that an equivalent standard gasoline car has, but the hybrid driver will always pay disproportionately less towards maintenance of our roads because they use less gas; therefore paying less tax.
8. Aren’t drivers with studded tires causing most damage to our roads?
Cars with studded tires do cause more damage to state roadways than cars with standard tires. A 2000 study by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) estimated that studded tires create between $20 and $40 million in damage to state roads each year, while the Washington Department of Transportation concludes that studded tires do between $10 and $16 million in damage each year to state roadways (2012 dollars). Though this damage is significant, it represents a small fraction of the $760 million ODOT will spend this biennium (2012-2014) on highway maintenance and pavement preservation. Three house bills (HB) considered in 2013 regarding studded tires did not pass into legislation:
- HB 2397 would have imposed a fee collected by tire dealers whenever they sold studded tires or installed studs on a tire. The fee amount would have been determined by the legislature.
- HB 2278 would have imposed a $10 per tire fee collected by tire dealers when they sold studded tires or installed studs on a tire.
- HB 2277 would have directed ODOT to determine the amount of damage caused by studded tires, determined the number of drivers using them, and required a permit to use studded tires. The permit cost would have been determined by ODOT’s biennial estimates of road damage caused by studded tire use.
It’s clear that studded tires are neither the only, nor the primary, cause of damage to our roads.
9. Why not charge vehicles by weight instead?
One common question heard throughout the 2012-13 pilot project was, “why don’t you charge large vehicles and trucks more since they damage the roads more?”
It’s true; heavy vehicles do significantly more damage than passenger cars, and freight trucks loaded to the maximum legal weight do about 8,000 times more road damage than standard passenger cars. That’s why Oregon does charge heavy vehicles more for road use. Truckers pay a “weight-mile tax,” based on the number of axles, vehicle weight, and number of miles driven in Oregon. Oregon ensures that freight haulers pay their fair share for this extra burden on our roads through this weight-mile tax. According to its most recent budget, ODOT expects to collect about $611 million annually from this tax.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to charge drivers of large cars a higher fee than drivers of small cars because the difference of road impacts is small – in fact, it is barely measurable. A uniform road usage charge is a fairer way to account for each driver’s use of the transportation system because it is based on miles driven rather than the weight of the vehicle.
10. Wouldn’t a road usage charge punish electric vehicle owners?
At ODOT, we are working to reduce Oregon’s dependence on fossil fuels through a wide variety of measures. However, all vehicle owners have a shared responsibility to fund maintenance and improvement of the state’s road system.
As we’ve seen an increasing number of highly fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, it has meant a decreasing amount of money collected through the state gas tax. State gas tax revenues provide the biggest source of funds to maintain and improve our roadways. Since all vehicles create some wear and tear on roads, the goal is to create a usage charge that replaces the state gas tax for these highly fuel-efficient vehicles to continue maintenance of the roads. So, while the road usage charge will require that drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles pay more in state fees than they currently do, it will create a more equitable system.
In truth, the state gas tax (and cost to maintain public roads) is only a small portion of the cost of operating any vehicle – Oregon’s gas tax amounts to about $0.09 of every dollar spent on gasoline. Charging electric vehicle owners for road usage will certainly cost electric vehicle and hybrid drivers more than they are paying now, but the mileage fee is small compared to the many other costs of owning and operating a car.
11. Wouldn’t a road usage charge put an unfair financial burden on rural drivers?
Some people have expressed concerns that a road usage charge may put an unfair financial burden on rural drivers, who may have longer distances to travel, for example, to get to the grocery store or doctor. However, this would be no different than it is with the current fuel tax: the more miles driven, the more tax paid through higher gas use.
One benefit of the road usage charge system—assuming some rural travel is actually on private roads— is that it would actually be more fair because it would exclude miles traveled on private roads either using GPS or manual records, unlike the gas tax.
ODOT is exploring options for buffering the impact to rural drivers. It may be, for example, that rural drivers would have a different per-mile rate. However, the legislature would need to approve an exception in the standard rate. An argument must be made to convince legislators that an exception is fair to all; there must be sound supporting rationale. This could prove to be a challenge, as many drivers could potentially claim that they, too, are in a position of needing to drive more than average, given their livelihoods, family circumstances, etc.
12. Who is providing ODOT with policy input on this new system?
The policy committee that has been guiding development of the road usage charge system is the Road User Fee Task Force (RUFTF), which was established through HB 3946, passed by the 2001 Oregon Legislative Assembly. The mission of this committee is “to develop a revenue collection design funded through user pay methods, acceptable and visible to the public, that ensures a flow of revenue sufficient to annually maintain, preserve, and improve Oregon´s state, county, and city highway and road system.”