Washington State Drivers – The Pay Per Mile Tax Is Coming
Washington State already boasts one of the highest gas taxes in the Nation. The price at the pump is slated to increase roughly fifty more cents in 2023. For a number of years, and with the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles, a new way to collect road revenues has been discussed at length. At their most recent meeting the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) gave their official recommendation for a pay per mile tax or Road Usage Charge (RUC) What does this mean for you?
Why a Pay Per Mile or RUC?
A pay per mile or RUC came into play as more hybrid and electric vehicles hit the roads. Because they use less or zero fuel, those vehicles are able to travel with drivers avoiding the fuel tax that the majority of drivers pay. Because the State's primary funding source for roads comes from the gas tax, they needed to address the steady decline in the gas tax fund. Surcharges are applied to owners of hybrids and EVs, but they don't come close to the amount of revenue collected by the gas tax.
What is a Pay Per Mile tax or RUC?
A pay per mile tax is exactly what it sounds like, you pay for every mile you drive. You don't pay for every mile on every road as not all roads are equal. The State can only charge you for driving on public roads that they are responsible for maintaining. Travel on Interstates, State Highways, and other publicly maintained roads (county and city roads) would be tracked.
Travel on private roads, private farms with access roads, and out of State road ways can not be calculated in the tax. The WSTC has recommended a 2.5 cent per mile charge per vehicle.
How Do They Know How Much You Drive?
That is where it gets interesting. The WSTC is asking the Legislature to authorize the RUC in this coming session so they can begin an opt-in program in 2025 before all drivers are moved to it in 2027. In the summer of 2025, if you have a vehicle that gets 25 mpg or more you can opt in, if you have a hybrid or EV you can opt in and have your fee waived. There are three programs the WSTC is pursuing:
Flex Pay Program
This program, targeted to low and middle class income residents, would allow you to pay the tax in installments instead of one lump sum. 100 people will be recruited to participate in this program.
Another 100 people will be recruited to take part in this program to study driving habits of those that live near the Oregon, Idaho, and Canadian Borders. Those who do a significant amount of driving on private lands would also be eligible.
This could be the most controversial program. This would add a device to your vehicle that would automatically report the miles you drive through a combination of GPS and telecommunication technologies. The targets for this are government sector vehicle fleets, commercial fleets, car enthusiasts, and auto industry groups. That doesn't mean the legislature couldn't mandate this as the standard reporting system if they so choose. To the WSTC's credit, they are very conscious of privacy concerns and protecting the privacy of drivers and they recommend State Vehicles be used as the test subjects for the program.
The RUC will not be in play for a few more years, but considering the push to EVs in the State and the declining revenue in the gas tax fund, it would be a shock if the Legislature doesn't pass this into law in the 2023 Session. Which plan they decide to move forward with will be what to watch.