by Matt Rosenberg June 6th, 2012
Building on an experiment with drivers on Puget Sound roads plus a 2010 legislative study and a task force report issued in January 2012 by Governor Chris Gregoire, the State of Washington is now seeking bidders for a feasibility study on something that could eventually become a big piece of the 21st Century surface transportation funding puzzle here and elsewhere: a vehicle mileage tax.
Although more attention in the Seattle region is focused now on whether electronic highway and bridge tolling will be expanded, the long-term picture might prove far more high-tech than today’s windshield-mounted transponders which get zapped by an overhead roadway device that then bills the driver’s prepaid “Good To Go” account. Instead, GPS-like black boxes mandated in passenger vehicles and connected to a central billing system are just one example of where we might be headed – though with plenty of focus groups and public meetings to get the necessary buy-in from wary motorists. It may be 10 years or more before such an approach is actually in place in the state’s major metro regions, but the 2011-2013 supplemental transportation budget approved by lawmakers earlier this year provides $1 million in preliminary study funds to get started on the assessments.
The funding is detailed in Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2190 on page 14, line 6; and page 30, line 12. A more comprehensive mileage tax study funding bill sponsored in the 2012 winter session by State Rep. Andy Billig (D-Spokane), HB 2704, sparked debate on next steps and led to the near-term appropriation.
As a result, in a request for proposals recently issued by the Washington Transportation Commission, the state is seeking a consultant who would be paid up to $875,000 to produce a series of deliverables between August 2012 and June 2013 for a commission steering committee and ultimately elected officials, on the concept of a road user charge. That’s more commonly known as a pay-by-the-mile vehicle tax, or vehicle mileage tax.
The winning bidder will deliver:
The commission is a seven-citizen body appointed by the Governor which already serves as the state’s official overseer of tolling rates. It says in the RFP that it is likely to draw on its growing pool of statewide online citizen survey respondents to gauge their reactions and concerns about the mileage tax concepts and the particulars being considered. The RFP says the consultant will have to address equity and fairness, and privacy concerns.
Minimum qualifications for bidders include expertise in transportation revenue and policy; public opinion assessments; and road user charge technologies such as “in-vehicle telematics, network communications protocols, back-office transaction processing, toll system development, etc.” In the RFP’s introduction, the commission explains that the old reliable, by-the-gallon gasoline tax (split between the U.S. and states) is no longer sufficient to cover either maintenance and operations of highways and roads or construction of new roads and bridges, where needed. Increasing fuel efficiency has resulted in the yield leveling off as system needs mushroomed with decades of growing use.
According to the RFP, the commission’s steering committee overseeing Washington’s feasibility study on the mileage tax will meet six times during the first phase of work. Meeting dates are tentatively set for September 13 and October 30 in the Seattle area, December 4 and January 25 in Olympia and in March and May at locations to be determined. Based on the findings of the consultant, the steering committee and the commission, the legislature would decide whether or not to fund continued work on the milage tax.
RELATED: “States Explore New Ways To Tax Motorists For Road Repair, USA Today, June 3, 2012.