Management & Operations

Washington state report recommends VMT to fund highway system

Posted on January 28, 2020

The Washington State Transportation Commission recommends the state begin its initial move away from fuel taxes to avoid long-term issues with financing the increasing and evolving needs of our modern highway system.
The Washington State Transportation Commission recommends the state begin its initial move away from fuel taxes to avoid long-term issues with financing the increasing and evolving needs of our modern highway system.SounderBruce

A new report by the state of Washington highlights the necessity and benefits of moving away from fuel taxes and transitioning to a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) system to fund the state’s highway system.

The Washington State Transportation Commission, after an extensive investigation, analysis, and pilot phase, recommends the state begin its initial move away from fuel taxes to avoid long-term issues with financing the increasing and evolving needs of our modern highway system.

According to the report on a potential transition to a VMT, or Road Usage Charge (RUC), system, “With the gas tax already declining, adoption of cleaner and alternative fuel vehicles accelerating, and RUC systems and technologies ready for implementation, the state must act now to avoid a predictable transportation funding crisis later…. RUC policy, public acceptance, and system capabilities are mature enough to implement a RUC system that will serve as a foundation for a larger-scale, new highway funding system in the future.”

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Beginning the transition to a VMT system now will help avoid a predictable, preventable revenue crisis associated with continuing to rely on the gas tax. A transition can also ensure that drivers do not pay both a gas tax and a VMT.
  • Continued reliance on the gas tax will continue to shift the burden of paying for the road system onto an increasingly smaller number who drive older vehicles with low MPG and may not be able to afford newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and rural drivers, who on average drive less fuel-efficient cars compared to urban drivers and already pay a larger share of gas taxes due to driving greater distances.
  • Rural drivers, generally speaking, would likely pay less under a VMT system while urban drivers would pay more than under current fuel rates.
  • Using the rates tested in the pilot, hybrid drivers, for example, would likely pay more under a VMT system, while drivers of older, less fuel-efficient pickup trucks would likely pay a third less than they pay under the current fuel tax rate.
  • Under the pilot program, 71% of respondents supported implementation of a VMT as a replacement to the gas tax. 68% preferred VMT over the gas tax or preferred it equally.
  • There is now a pathway toward replacing the gas tax that is fiscally sustainable and fair.
  • It is possible to transition to a VMT system that protects privacy, preserves equity, and can be implemented at a reasonable cost.

The report noted a transition can begin while some key issues continue to be addressed, such as issues of privacy, simplicity for users, equity, and collection costs. Several other states are also involved in analyzing and piloting VMT systems with the assistance of federal transportation grants authorized in the FAST Act.

To view the full report, click here.

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