Lawmakers consider taxing drivers by the mile

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - Lawmakers in Olympia are considering a new way to tax drivers for every mile they drive.

At this point, a road usage charge is only an idea, but it's being studied thoroughly.

In theory, it would replace the gas tax. Instead of paying taxes by the gallon, drivers would pay by the mile for using any public road in Washington.

A handful of other states, including Oregon and California, are looking into road usage fees as an alternative to gas taxes.

The Washington Transportation Commission, which is studying the idea in Washington, believes the gas tax model used now, in which drivers are charged nearly 50 cents per gallon, isn't sustainable.

With cars becoming more fuel efficient, and drivers paying less in gas tax, states are looking for new ways to fund roads. A by-the-mile system would be more predictable and potentially more lucrative for the state.

But how does it work?

In Oregon, beta testers are given a GPS device they put in their car that tracks the miles they drive.  Other systems may be less invasive and just take odometer readings.

So, how much could you expect to pay in a road usage charge compared to the gas tax? According to the Transportation Commission, drivers who average 1,000 miles per month in a car that gets average mileage, will pay about the same as they do now in gas tax: $25 dollars a month.   People who drive trucks or SUVs, which use more gas, would actually save $7.93 a month with a pay-by-mile system.   But hybrid drivers would pay $14.02 more per month, since they buy such a small amount of gas.

But former Washington Transportation Secretary, Paula Hammond, who is now consulting with transportation leaders, says the road usage charge isn't a done deal -- it could be several years down the road.

According to the Transportation Commission, there may be some federal grant money starting next year for a demonstraton program for the road usage system.

 The committee's report to the governor is due in December.