By Douglas Shinkle and Jonathon Bates
Statehouses have been at the forefront of considering road user charges (RUC) since Oregon enacted the first bill to study RUC as a potential replacement for the gas tax in 2001. This is perhaps fitting given Oregon created the nation’s first gas tax over a century ago in 1919.
Former NCSL President and ex-Oregon Senator Bruce Starr helped lead the efforts to develop the RUC system that is now operational in Oregon. For the past 10 years, NCSL has been actively researching RUC and convening state lawmakers and legislative and state department of transportation staff to discuss challenges and opportunities related to the development of operational RUC systems.
State legislatures continue to debate RUC legislation. In 2019 and 2020, at least 19 states—Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington—considered 34 pieces of legislation addressing RUC. Of those, at least seven states—Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington—have enacted eight pieces of legislation. Five states—Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Vermont—currently have seven pending pieces of legislation, including carryover bills from 2019.
A few of the most recent notable state actions to study and establish RUC programs include:
- The Nevada legislature directed (AB 483) the state Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct a pilot program on annual vehicle miles traveled charging, as adjusted by type of vehicle and fuel system.
- Oregon lawmakers modified (HB 2881) eligibility and other requirements in 2019 to enroll in their voluntary RUC program, known as OReGO, by exempting vehicles achieving at least 40 mpg from an additional registration surcharge of $33 and by exempting electric vehicles from a registration surcharge of $110 if they enroll in OReGO. The legislature also increased the minimum fuel economy that new vehicles participating in OReGO must achieve, from 17 mpg to 20 mpg. OReGO’s enrollment cap was also removed and the per-mile rate charged to participants was adjusted to 5% of the per-gallon license tax. Currently, the per-mile rate is set at 1.8 cents per mile, according to OReGO.
- Utah’s legislature established (SB 72) a RUC program that went live Jan. 1, 2020. The legislation also requires the Utah DOT to submit annual reports on Utah’s RUC program and submit a plan to enroll all vehicles by Dec. 31, 2031. Eligible vehicles include fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and gasoline hybrid vehicles. Participation is voluntary and eligible car owners must opt-in. By doing so, they agree to pay a 1.5 cent per mile charge in lieu of an alternative fuel vehicle registration fee of $90 in 2020, which will rise to $120 beginning in 2021.
- The Virginia General Assembly established (SB 890) a mileage-based user fee (MBUF) program in 2020. Eligible participants include owners of electric vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles or a fuel-efficient vehicle subject to a “Highway Use Fee.” Drivers of any fuel-efficient, alternative fuel, or electric vehicle may enroll in the MBUF and not pay a newly created annual highway use fee. Additionally, owners of other fuel-efficient vehicles, defined as vehicles with a combined fuel economy of at least 25 MPG, may enroll.
- The Washington legislature required (HB 1160) the state DOT to submit recommendations that considered the impacts of RUC on low-income households, vulnerable populations and displaced communities. The law also established an RUC working group and required a final report on implementation that was submitted in Jan. 2020 to the governor, legislature and the Federal Highway Administration. The report addressed topics such as privacy, rate-setting, compatibility with tolling systems and out-of-state drivers and had a recommendation to assess equity impacts of RUC on certain communities, including low-income residents, elderly and persons with disabilities and rural and displaced populations.
Read the new fact sheet on Missouri’s RUC actions on NCSL’s RUC homepage, and check back in the months ahead for new state RUC resources. State legislatures will continue to be leaders in test-driving what the future of RUC may look like for states and the nation as a whole.
Douglas Shinkle is director of NCSL’s Transportation Program.