Sometime in the next few years, California”s 36-cent-a-gallon gas tax might be going away. But don”t celebrate the possibility, because something else would take its place.
That something else would be a “roadway user charge” (or RUC, in the acronym-happy transportation world), which would bill you by the mile for however far you drive.
A bill passed the Legislature this term that would set up a committee to determine how the system might work, and directs Caltrans run a pilot program in 2017 to work out any kinks.
The state isn”t blazing new ground on this, as Oregon”s been working on a roadway user charge since 2001. It ran pilot programs in 2007 and 2012, and in 2015 will be implementing a voluntary program for 5,000 cars and light commercial trucks. Several other states are considering it as well.
California”s system would likely mirror Oregon”s. There, a monitoring devise in the vehicle reports mileage driven to the state, and the driver is billed 1.5 cents a mile. The state refunds to anyone who participates in the program however much gas tax they paid.
The reason the change is being considered is that the gas tax is an increasingly unreliable source of revenue. As cars become more efficient, using less gas per mile, the revenue declines. Electric and alternative-fuel vehicles avoid the gas altogether, even though they contribute to the wear-and-tear on the roads the gas tax is supposed to address.
As things sit in California right now, maintaining the existing road system would cost $8 billion a year, Caltrans District 2 Director Amarjeet Benipal told this newspaper during last week”s Highway 99 auxiliary lane ceremony in Chico. He went on to say the gas tax provides $2.3 billion annually.
That”s the motivation behind SB1077 (http://tinyurl.com/lzmgq7s), which calls for the study and pilot program to give a try to the roadway user charge. The bill doesn”t specify what a per-mile charge might be, and charges the committee studying the idea with making sure sufficient privacy safeguards are in effect, as your car would in effect be reporting to the state where it is.
The bill passed both the Assembly and Senate, and is awaiting Gov. Brown”s signature or veto.
Reach City Editor Steve Schoonover at 896-7750.