Tuesday, December 04, 2007

By-the-Mile Tolling in Oregon: Panning Out or Panned?

As reported some months ago in this blog, Oregon has been testing on-board Global Positioning Systems that could one day allow mile-by-mile pricing for all car travel in the state. A few weeks ago, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) released the final report on their "Road User Fee Pilot Program"--which declared the project "feasible."

According to the blog Portland Transport, the proposed system detects whether a vehicle is within one of three zones and logs mileage within each zone into separate categories for billing purposes. The zones are out-of-state (no charge), in-state (nominal charge), and within the Portland metro area (nominal charge with option for congestion pricing). The mileage fee would be collected at the fuel pump in lieu of a gas tax (for those who have the proper equipment to communicate with the fuel pump), while out-of-state drivers (or those otherwise without the proper equipment) would be charged the fuel tax in lieu of a mileage fee.

Washington's neighbor to the south is often in the forefront of new initiatives--for instance, Oregon was the first state to implement a gas tax, in 1919. So how likely is the advent of such a system there?

The most recent issue of Willamette Week (in an article entitled "Miles from Nowhere") predicts that it won't happen for several reasons:
  • Environmentalists question why the state would switch to a system where a Hummer owner would be treated the same as a Prius owner;
  • Civil libertarians raise alarms about the mileage tax’s underlying technology that uses a global positioning system to count the number of miles driven;
  • ODOT itself believes that it’s unlikely that a relatively small state like Oregon could be the first to implement a mileage tax;
  • The prototypes used in the pilot are not commercially viable, meaning that the technology would have to be developed.