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What Can We Learn from Oregon’s Mileage Tax Experiment?

7:57 AM PDT on April 2, 2009

A few weeks ago, the Obama Administration had a rather embarrassing public difference
over the idea of a mileage tax to replace the gas tax. It's certainly
one of the most contentious notions out there, but most of the debate
is based on hypotheticals. Now, as reported by Streetsblog Network member Worldchanging,
the Oregon Department of Transportation has released the results of a
2006 experiment in a pay-at-the-pump mileage-based system, and we have
some data to talk about. Adam Stein writes:

399353063_9c8e38b119_m.jpgPhoto by Entropyer via Flickr.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has compiled a 100-page
report on the experiment that covers a lot of ground, but basically
describes the trial as a roaring success. Note several features of this

  • Overhead is low. Because the mileage tax
    piggybacks on the existing gas tax collection system, it’s easy and
    cheap for the state to administer.
  • Payment is simple.
    From the driver’s perspective, the mileage tax differs little from the
    gas tax, other than the fact that their gas station receipts contain
    interesting information on miles driven.
  • Privacy is protected. The state only gets odometer information, not information about vehicle location.
  • Evasion is difficult. Even if you tamper with the GPS receiver, you’re still going to pay the gas tax.
  • Phased
    implementation is possible. Oregon doesn’t foresee a complete
    changeover to mileage taxes happening until 2040. This is a bit too
    slow for my taste (I really hope gas stations don’t exist in
    2040), but the point is that gas taxes and mileage taxes can happily
    coexist as the vehicle fleet turns over.

the system worked. Just as importantly, public acceptance was high. 91%
of [self-selected] test participants preferred the system to paying gas
taxes.… Before the experiment began, media portrayals of the system
were almost uniformly negative -- and inaccurate. By the middle of
2006, media coverage ranged from neutral to positive, and were far more
accurate. Citizen comment
reflected this broader trend. ODOT concludes, “Effective communication
can lead to public acceptance.”

Elsewhere around the network: Sustainable Savannah has a sheriff's shocking defense of high-speed driving on rural roads; Twin Cities Streets for People links to a CNN report on the national mass transit crisis that uses Transportation for America's excellent map of service cuts around the nation; and Trains for America notes that Japan is committed to staying out in front on high-speed rail.

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