More fuel-efficient cars are siphoning off gas-tax revenues that support highway maintenance in Oregon.
As a result, state transportation officials are considering a mileage tax on vehicles that average 55 miles or better on a gallon of gasoline.
A pilot project started this month will test different methods of tracking mileage, which could lead to a bill before the Legislature in 2013 to tax vehicles that need little or no gasoline.
“I don’t think people will be excited about GPS tracking," said Derek DeBoer, one of the owners of TC Chevy in Ashland.
DeBoer, who owns a Chevrolet Volt that runs primarily on electricity and is recharged by plugging it into an electrical outlet, said he still thinks the state will have to find some way of collecting revenues to keep roads properly maintained as cars become more fuel-efficient.
“It’s a natural consequence of going green," he said.
James Whitty, manager of ODOT’s Office of Innovative Partnerships, said the state’s proposal suggests various options to keep track of mileage — starting with odometer readings by an ODOT official for those who don’t trust technology.
More tech-tolerant motorists might opt for a mileage reporting device that plugs into a data port in the car.
Another option is to use a smartphone in conjunction with the mileage reporting device so that miles traveled out of state wouldn’t be subject to Oregon taxes.
An even more sophisticated option is to install a reporting device with GPS so that miles traveled outside the state aren’t calculated. This option would transmit the data directly to the state.
Bills for the mileage tax would be sent out monthly to yearly, depending on how many miles are racked up.
Whitty said so many options are being considered in the program because a government-produced GPS tracking system tested in 2006 met with criticism from the public over the potential for government monitoring.
This time, the GPS tracking devices would be produced by the private sector, Whitty said, similar to many applications on smartphones.
Since 2006, the public has become used to location tracking systems inside smartphones. Also, many new cars have navigation systems and other devices that already keep track of mileage.
Whitty said many people with all-electric vehicles think the fact they own a green car means they shouldn’t be penalized by paying any road tax.
“Every vehicle should have a minimal responsibility for road use," Whitty said.
The Legislature will determine how much to tax for every mile these vehicles travel when it considers the mileage tax bill.
Under the pilot project, which is being tested on 47 vehicles, the tax-per-mile is 1.5 cents, based on the average 20 miles-per-gallon for a vehicle in Oregon. The state collects about 30 cents for each gallon of gasoline.
Whitty said some transportation officials think the tax-per-mile should be lower as an incentive to purchase electric vehicles.
Under the current proposal, the new tax would apply only to vehicles purchased after July 1, 2015.
“It’s easier to start the system with new vehicles," Whitty said.
Vehicle mileage ratings will continue to improve until 2025, when the federal government will require that the average new car run 54.5 miles on a gallon of gas.
Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, said he tried to sign up for the pilot project but missed the deadline.
He said the state needs to find a way to collect revenue lost from fuel-efficient vehicles, but “at the same time, we want electric vehicles to become more popular," he said.