Q&A (Part 2) about the state’s pay-per-mile tax pilot project

For example: “What do trucks, buses and cars that drive through our state pay?”

Let’s have some more Q-and-A about pay-per-mile taxes, a concept the state is testing with its more officially titled “road usage charge pilot project.” These include more questions from JK Veldman, of Everett. Motorcycle owner William Crouch, of Everett, also chimes in.

“What do trucks, buses and cars that drive through our state pay?”

Our state is uniquely situated to see how these border issues can be resolved.

Especially with our next-door neighbor, Oregon, which is the only state in the country that has a working pay-per-mile tax program. (It’s voluntary, and the vast majority of Oregon drivers still choose to pay at the pump with gas taxes. Still. It’s for reals.)

As part of Washington’s pilot project, a few drivers from each state are paying actual money to see how the system could work across state lines — including how those funds are deposited into state treasuries. (For reals.)

Both Oregon’s program and Washington’s pilot project take into account what drivers pay in fuel taxes at the pump.

OReGO charges 1.7 cents per mile driven, then credits 34 cents per gallon consumed for state fuels tax paid to calculate the net balance due. WA RUC charges 2.4 cents per mile driven and credits 49.4 cents per gallon for state fuels tax paid.

Washington’s pilot project also involves a few drivers in British Columbia.

The general belief is that a pay-per-mile tax system will only work if there is critical mass — when a bunch of states charge them. For now, states are testing different approaches. Our state is key to border questions, as well as initial ideas for the role of smartphone apps.

So the real answer to this question is like that of many other inquiries about pay-per-mile taxes — far off.

“What happens when we drive outside the state?”

Whether you’re charged depends on whether you’re letting Big Brother (or Little Brother) track where you roll.

To the extent that drivers give permission, out-of-state miles are being tracked. What a driver pays or doesn’t pay when she crosses state lines depends on the mileage reporting method.

Only reporting options that are GPS-enabled will factor out those miles from your total pay-per-mile bill.

For example, I chose a plug-and-play option that automatically tracks my miles and enables GPS tracking. My first four invoices showed I traveled 8.8 miles on non-public roads (hi, Grandma) and was not charged for them. I saved a whopping 21 cents. (I do try to pinch my pennies, so I’ll take it.)

I did get charged 2.4 cents for each of the more than 2,900 other miles I drove on public roadways in the state.

After factoring out what I already paid in state gas tax, I had a total of $1.93 in credits. (Don’t worry, I won’t spend it all in one place — because it’s imaginary.)

We’ll see this summer how the simulation handles my Oregon travel.

Those who opt not to have their miles tracked are charged for all their miles, be it for errands or cross-country road trips. This usually involves taking a photo of your odometer.

“What about motorcycles?”

The pilot program does not include motorcycles. There’s a limited budget, planners say, so the focus is on passenger vehicles. (Buses, RVs, bicycles, big rigs —those aren’t in the picture either.)

For the purposes of the pilot, the state is mock-“charging” a flat 2.4 cents-per-mile across all vehicles. That’s based on what the average car (20.5 mpg) in our state currently pays under the 49.4 cent per gallon gas tax.

In a real-world scenario, it’s feasible that heavier vehicles could be taxed more and lighter vehicles could be taxed less under a pay-per-mile system.

That, like most details, would be up to the Legislature.

Do you have a question? Send it to streetsmarts@heraldnet.com.

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