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“The Impact” – Sept. 27th, 2017 – Road Usage Charge Pilot Project

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

This week on “The Impact”:

From highways to bridges and even ferries, Washington state’s transportation infrastructure is primarily paid for by the gallon. The state tax on gasoline is the main source of revenue that props up the system.  It’s been that way for decades, but now state transportation planners say  there’s a problem with that funding mechanism.

Due to  advances in fuel efficiency and the growing popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles – they say gas tax revenues are not going to keep pace with the cost of highway maintenance..

The Washington State Transportation commission is launching a pilot project to test a new funding mechanism that would charge drivers based on how much they drive  instead of how much gasoline they use.

The road usage charge or “RUC” as it’s referred to is a per mile charge drivers would pay to use the roads. It’s a proposed alternative to the per gallon tax on gasoline.

In 2012 the state legislature directed the transportation commission to work with WSDOT and a steering committee to assess the road usage charge and find out if it was feasible.

The mileage based tax would be a new dynamic.  It presents new funding opportunities, but it also raises a lot of questions.

We spoke to some drivers in the Olympia area to get their first reaction to the concept.

Q- Have you heard about this yet?

A-  “I haven’t heard about this, this is the first I’ve heard,” said Theresa Williams.

Q – What’s your gut reaction to the idea of getting charged for every single mile you drive?

A – “I think it’s pretty ridiculous because I drive from Tacoma to Olympia every day so it’s pretty ridiculous,” said Williams.


Travis Neal had a different take.

A – “Really to me, probably 9 times out of 10 it might add up to the same it may not, it may save,” said Neal.

Q- So as long as you’re not paying more no big deal?

A – “No big deal. As long as it don’t go up, fluctuate and no blind sides coming toward you, I’m cool with it,” said Neal.


The Road Usage Charge pilot project is now in the recruitment phase.

The Washington State Transportation Commission is looking for 2000 volunteers from across Washington. The pilot project will last twelve months.  Participants will not actually pay the road usage charge, but will simulate the process. Project participants will have  four mileage reporting options:

  1. They can get a mileage permit for a pre-selected block of miles.
  2. Quarterly odometer readings – handled electronically or in person.
  3. They can use an automated plug in device – either with or without GPS.
  4. And then there’s a smartphone app to collect and record miles traveled.

The idea of a road usage charge is generating mixed reactions among transportation policy advocates.

The Seattle based advocacy group – Transportation Choices Coalition describes the road usage charge concept as a promising policy in a 2013 blog post saying, “By charging by the mile or minute, the road usage charge creates a direct incentive to drive fewer miles, influencing the demand for transportation, decreasing congestion and vehicle emissions.”

Mariya Frost, Director of the Coles Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center raises concerns about privacy, fairness and high administrative costs with a road usage charge adding, “Even if these problems were solved, there remains a lack of public trust. Our state has a long history of officials diverting taxes and fees paid by drivers to non-highway purposes, as well as artificially inflating the cost of public road projects.”

In this episode we sit down with WSTC Executive Director Reema Griffith to discuss the idea at length.

 Click here to watch “The Impact” September 27th, 2017