Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WA advisors give preliminary green light to mileage tax

by Matt Rosenberg December 4th, 2012

In a report released today, an advisory committee to Washington state transportation officials pronounced as “feasible” an envisioned and sure to be controversial working concept for charging drivers by the mile, to fund future surface transportation system needs in the state. In a draft feasibility assessment, work plan and budget reviewed today during a meeting in SeaTac of the Washington State Road User Charge Assessment Steering Committee, the body found the proposed mileage tax – which it prefers to call a road user charge – “is feasible in Washington” and warrants further study detailed in the report. Next steps would cost at least $3.5 million and present the state legislature with enough information to decide whether the mileage tax is desirable, and if so, exactly how it would be implemented. Lawmakers will decide in the coming 2013 session whether to proceed with more study.

Possible early-stage implementation wouldn’t occur any sooner than five to ten years from now, and total abandonment of the idea is possible due to anti-tax resistance. At the root of the need for the mileage tax, the committee says is “that the gas tax is not a sustainable revenue source for transportation in Washington.”

The report stresses this assertion is demonstrated in at least three prior state studies including one issued in January 2012 by a special task force convened by Gov. Chris Gregoire. State projections show gas tax revenues per mile for Washington will continue to erode sharply as average miles per gallon continue to grow, resulting in $5 billion less than originally projected to the state from that source between 2007 and 2023.

The basis for finding the mileage tax concept feasible, the report says, includes meeting a number of criteria. Key among these are that it is convenient, flexible, implementable, fair, ensures privacy, produces stable and sustainable revenues, and can recognize and charge out-of-state travellers on Washington’s roads.

The report says road user charges – a.k.a. vehicle mileage taxes – have been “discussed, proposed, studied and subject to pilot tests in almost 20 states” including Oregon, California and Washington (by volunteers working with the Puget Sound Regional Council). The report says that among the lessons learned from pilot studies in the U.S. and in New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands and Hong Kong are the following:


  • Policy choices and the legislative framework need to drive technology, not the other way around;
  • Refine and test the policy objectives (revenue is the top concern) and be fully transparent and engaged with the public. Be exceedingly clear how revenues will be used;
  • Remember that passenger cars are different than trucks, and offer simple efficient choices for technology and payment streams.

  • The primary goal of the mileage tax would be to develop a new and reliable revenue source, but it would need to be indexed to inflation, according to the report. Other objectives could include reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing driving, and congestion. Charges could be applied in a variety of ways. Rates could vary by vehicle type, time of day, engine run time, or miles traveled as calculated by either an odometer, or on board devices. Rates could be further calibrated by real-time congestion levels and “environmental impacts of driving” which could include not only vehicle type but also passenger load. Pilot tests would another $1 million to $5 million to the estimated go-forward baseline tab of $3.5 million.

    A variety of technologies exist which could facilitate the vehicle mileage tax in Washington. Here is a related page from the report.


    From Washington State Road User Charge Assessment Feasibility Study, released 12/4/12


    RELATED: “How To Get Involved In The WA Mileage Tax Feasibility Study,” Public Data Ferret; Our Washington State+Transportation archive


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    2 Responses to “WA advisors give preliminary green light to mileage tax”

    1. David Payer says:

      I will be suggesting that we put billboards at our (Iowa) state borders requesting all visitors from Washington State to please register at the nearest court house to pay for their anticipated mileage usage of the roads here.

      It would be fair to seek compensation for Iowans using the roads in Washington.

      Furthermore, our Des Moines is better.

      Facetiously yours,

      David P.

    2. [...] for the costs of vehicle travel statewide. The concept of a vehicle tax by the mile is getting a preliminary review by a state-appointed committee, and could move into a second, more detailed phase of study if the [...]