Washington to begin testing a pay-by-mile tax

SEATTLE — In fall 2017, the state of Washington will begin a pilot program, testing a system of charging drivers for the number of miles traveled, instead of charging them a gas tax.

For the pilot period, drivers will only be tracking miles and will not be paying taxes based on that mileage yet.

The current state gas tax is 49.4 cents per gallon of gas.

Because there are more fuel efficient cars now on the market, drivers are buying less gas. The state is therefore collecting less revenue in gas taxes that are used to maintain roads.

So far, Oregon is the first state in the country to charge drivers by mile rather than by gallon of gas. KIRO 7 visited Oregon in 2015 to learn more about their system.

For the purpose of the simulation next year, the Washington state transportation commission is looking at a 2.4-cent tax per mile traveled. When compared to the amount of gas consumed, this would add up to the same amount an average driver would pay in state gas taxes.

Up to 2,000 volunteers will be asked to participate in the pilot. Miles can be tracked either by odometer readings, by installing a device in the car that tracks miles, or by downloading a smart phone app that also tracks miles.

For those interested in becoming part of the pilot program, go to this website: www.waroadusagecharge.org.

KIRO 7 calculated what the cost might be for different drivers.

Bill Jones, who drives a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon, told KIRO 7 he drives about 900 miles a month. KIRO 7 estimated that his monthly state gas tax would be $22.23. If charged by mile, he would pay $21.60 per month.

Jones said it wouldn’t make much difference for him, but that the idea is better overall.

“We have to make up for that loss of revenue somehow. I mean, the roads cost just as much to fix as they ever did, and they’re going to cost more,” Jones said.

Jaimi Tapia said she commutes from Tacoma to Seattle every day in her 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt.

KIRO 7 estimated that she pays $51.38 per month in state gas taxes. But if Tapia is charged on miles traveled, she would pay $32.64 per month.

“That’s way better…I’m trying to save money anyway, so that works out,” she said.

Owners of hybrid or electric vehicles would pay much more than they are accustomed to.

Cindy Gruber bought a Prius for the second time, because she said she loves the fuel economy. She only fills up once a month.

That likely means she’s paying less than $6 a month in state gas taxes, while she might pay more than $21 per month if charged per mile.

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