What Can We Learn from Oregon’s Mileage Tax Experiment?

A few weeks ago, the Obama Administration had a rather embarrassing public difference over the idea of a mileage tax to replace the gas tax. It’s certainly one of the most contentious notions out there, but most of the debate is based on hypotheticals. Now, as reported by Streetsblog Network member Worldchanging, the Oregon Department of Transportation has released the results of a 2006 experiment in a pay-at-the-pump mileage-based system, and we have some data to talk about. Adam Stein writes:

399353063_9c8e38b119_m.jpgPhoto by Entropyer via Flickr.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has compiled a 100-page report on the experiment that covers a lot of ground, but basically describes the trial as a roaring success. Note several features of this system:

  • Overhead is low. Because the mileage tax piggybacks on the existing gas tax collection system, it’s easy and cheap for the state to administer.
  • Payment is simple. From the driver’s perspective, the mileage tax differs little from the gas tax, other than the fact that their gas station receipts contain interesting information on miles driven.
  • Privacy is protected. The state only gets odometer information, not information about vehicle location.
  • Evasion is difficult. Even if you tamper with the GPS receiver, you’re still going to pay the gas tax.
  • Phased implementation is possible. Oregon doesn’t foresee a complete changeover to mileage taxes happening until 2040. This is a bit too slow for my taste (I really hope gas stations don’t exist in
    2040), but the point is that gas taxes and mileage taxes can happily coexist as the vehicle fleet turns over.

Technically, the system worked. Just as importantly, public acceptance was high. 91% of [self-selected] test participants preferred the system to paying gas taxes.… Before the experiment began, media portrayals of the system were almost uniformly negative — and inaccurate. By the middle of 2006, media coverage ranged from neutral to positive, and were far more accurate. Citizen comment
reflected this broader trend. ODOT concludes, “Effective communication can lead to public acceptance.”

Elsewhere around the network: Sustainable Savannah has a sheriff’s shocking defense of high-speed driving on rural roads; Twin Cities Streets for People links to a CNN report on the national mass transit crisis that uses Transportation for America’s excellent map of service cuts around the nation; and Trains for America notes that Japan is committed to staying out in front on high-speed rail.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Nevada Becomes Newest Battleground in Mileage Tax Debate

|
Nevada’s state DOT is in the early stages of a years-long study aimed at mapping a possible transition from the gas tax to a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, a shift urged last year by a congressionally chartered panel on infrastructure financing and encouraged by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). In-vehicle GPS units, such as the […]

Boxer: Collect Fees on Driving Through ‘Honor System’

|
Another must-read from last week’s Reuters Infrastructure Summit: Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who will be responsible for shepherding the next transportation bill through the Senate, says she’s open to a mileage tax and to indexing the gas tax to inflation to generate new revenue. It’s great to hear a legislator in Boxer’s position voice […]

The Mileage Tax Genie Is Out of the Bottle

|
Last week, Obama DOT Secretary Ray LaHood caused quite a buzz by discussing, in an interview with an AP reporter, the idea of taxing motorists on the number of miles they travel rather than the amount of gas they burn. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs quickly came out and publicly contradicted LaHood, saying a […]

Transport Economist Challenges Claim That ‘VMT Causes Growth’

|
The claim to a link between economic growth and vehicle mileage — that, in other words, auto travel is essential to keeping U.S. productivity high — remains controversial and much-debated in transportation policy circles. One notable recent flare-up in that debate took place on National Journal’s blog after road lobbyist Greg Cohen, referring to an […]