Road funds

Volunteer drivers will be exempt from gas tax, pay by the mile

ODOT tries to find new ways to fund the state’s roads

By Kailey Fisicaro, The Bulletin, @kaileyfisicaro

How to sign up

Enrollment begins July 1. Here’s how to stay in the loop: Go to myorego.org and click the “sign me up!” or “join” buttons to be added to the “interest list.” The interest list uses email or text message to contact you, including info on how you can get involved next month.

There’s a new program that could get you out of paying the gas tax, but there’s a catch: You’re charged by the mile instead.

Next month, Oregon Department of Transportation will launch a pilot road usage charge program aimed at creating a reliable source of revenue to fund state transportation projects. Whether the program continues in the future is up to the Oregon Legislature. Right now, the Senate bill that created this volunteer pilot version has no end date.

The program, OreGo, will charge volunteers for the amount of miles they drive instead of fuel tax. In recent years, with the increase of efficient vehicles on the road, the state wasn’t getting enough revenue from fuel taxes. According to ODOT spokeswoman Shelley Snow, Oregonians bought less gas in 2013 than they did in 1999. But that doesn’t mean the roads are showing less wear.

OreGo was conceived as a way for the state to get paid for the roads by the people who use them the most. Beginning in July, OreGo will work on a volunteer basis; up to 5,000 participants will pay the 1.5 cents per mile road usage charge. They’ll get a credit to offset the fuel tax they pay at the pump.

Private companies that work in telematics, essentially the automation in modern vehicles, put in bids to work with ODOT on OreGo. Participants who sign up can choose to use any of those three private companies to track their miles: Azuga, Verizon Telematics, or ODOT powered by Sanef.

Those three private companies basically run the system, according to Michelle Godfrey, an ODOT spokeswoman for OreGo. The program, in some ways, is similar to pay-as-you-go insurance.

“You’ll basically have an account like you would with a cellphone company,” Godfrey said Thursday.

The different companies offer different payment options and features, such as crediting drivers for out-of-state miles. Azuga and Verizon Telematics both offer options for GPS-like tracking, which helps, for example, if a driver heads out of state. They won’t be charged per mile when they are outside of Oregon because the device will recognize where the car is. But Sanef does not have a vehicle location technique. The OreGo legislation required that one of the options only track miles, not location, in case drivers sought that added privacy. Drivers choosing Sanef who drive out of state would have to manually account for those hours and submit them, Snow said.

The device is a small unit that plugs in the car’s dataport and reports the information to the one of the private partner companies through a cellular system, according to Snow. Any vehicle manufactured before 1996 isn’t eligible for the program. The device usually goes under the steering wheel or under the dashboard on the passenger’s side. Snow, who has one of the devices in her car now, said she plugged it in herself.

A couple years ago, ODOT did an even smaller pilot version of this type of program. Then, only 88 people participated and residents in Washington and Nevada were included. Even though OreGo is on a larger scale, it’s still a way of testing the idea.

“We’re calling it a test drive,” Godfrey said Thursday.

So far, she said, ODOT has seen about 2,000 people show interest, who could potentially enroll July 1. Because the program deals with details like people’s driving routes, all the information is kept private.

“Protecting privacy is very important in this program,” Godfrey said.

Snow also knows that is likely the public’s chief concern.

“Do you feel that your privacy is protected enough to move this project forward?” Snow said. “That will definitely be the question.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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