In July 2018, WSTC initiated a pilot project to test an operational RUC program using a flat per-mile rate, derived from taking the state’s average vehicle mpg of 20.5 and dividing it by the state gas tax of 49.4 cents per gallon. Specifically, the RUC pilot offered five mileage reporting options, with each option using electronic invoicing for drivers:
Automated distance charge, which is calculated using one of these methods:
- A mileage permit, which is a permit issued when a driver pays a flat fee upfront for a block of miles such as 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000. Drivers report odometer readings electronically via photo or in-person every three months and purchase additional permits as needed.
- Vehicle odometer readings, a post-pay approach where drivers drove for three months and then submitted odometer readings electronically via photo or in-person with support from a vehicle licensing office.
- Automated distance charge, which is calculated using one of these methods:
- A plug-in telematics device with GPS.
- A plug-in telematics device without GPS.
- A smartphone app to record and report mileage, which allowed users to decide whether to enable location-based services.
STSFA grants funded the final design, recruitment and implementation of the 12-month RUC pilot, as well as surveying pilot participants, conducting focus groups around the state and evaluation planning. The grants also funded a smartphone innovation challenge that used a crowdsourcing approach at the University of Washington to build a beta smartphone app designed for the RUC pilot. The RUC pilot tested a theoretical 2.4 cents per mile charge for light-duty, non-commercial vehicles such as gasoline-fueled, hybrid and electric vehicles. More than 5,000 drivers volunteered for the RUC pilot, with 2,000 vehicles ultimately selected to participate. Participants represented diverse geographic and demographic groups across the state. There were no financial transactions for the RUC pilot and participants received mock invoices throughout its duration. The pilot ended in January 2019.
Washington completed all of the activities funded by STSFA Phase I grants. These activities included a 12-month RUC pilot with 2,000 participants, as well as participant surveys, focus groups, agency interviews and case studies. A concept of operations was produced for the pilot. This explored RUC operational concepts including a mileage permit, self-reporting and automated distance charging, tested whether there was a business case and identified implementation issues such as privacy, data security and enforcement. This also involved RUC steering committee-facilitated discussions on policy, public acceptance and technical issues. After studying RUC over several years, the RUC steering committee and WSTC determined that a RUC system was feasible and could out-produce the gas tax long-term to fund transportation needs.
The pilot prototyped a RUC system that closely modeled a full-scale system and the results informed next steps for an operational RUC system using a phased-in approach. One element was designing a system that could still collect gas taxes yet ensured drivers were not subject to both. Thus, drivers were credited for gas taxes paid at the pump, which then reduced the amount of RUC charges due.
A second element was studying out-of-state driving patterns to develop a multi-state RUC revenue reconciliation system, referred to as “the HUB.” The HUB acted as a financial clearinghouse that successfully processed the miles submitted by participants from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. Since 90 drivers from Oregon and 30 from Washington agreed to pay real money for their miles driven, the HUB provided a testing ground to process actual financial transactions and remit RUC revenues to each state according to miles driven. Notably, the WA RUC HUB was the first field test of a multi-jurisdictional RUC transaction processing system in North America.
A third element was to gather participant and public feedback. The top concerns raised were privacy, simplicity in reporting miles and other dimensions of equity, including vehicle weight, per-mile rates based on emissions and a driver’s ability to pay.
The WSTC announced 16 recommendations in December 2019 detailing how Washington can manage the transition from a gas tax system to a RUC system. Recommendations were to allow drivers to try the RUC system, test new personal privacy protections, conduct additional research regarding RUC rates and driver, vehicle or infrastructure characteristics and reduce the cost of collection through public-private partnerships (P3s). Furthermore, WSTC’s final RUC report in January 2020 called on the legislature to consider its 16 recommendations and included support for “a gradual and deliberate transition to a RUC system.” The report recommended phasing in RUC over the next 10 to 25 years, which is when all outstanding bonds that pledged gas tax revenue will have been paid off or restructured. Other recommendations were to begin a RUC program where electric and hybrid vehicles would pay a RUC, including state-owned vehicles, dedicating RUC revenues to highway purposes as required by the 18th Amendment of Washington’s Constitution, enacting laws that protect personal privacy and working with other states to narrow RUC compliance gaps.
The WSTC and their partner WSDOT recently received a $5.5 million STSFA grant to study issues discovered during the pilot that need to be resolved before a wide-scale RUC system can occur. The Forward Drive project reflects the next phase of RUC financial, policy, operational and technology development. At the outset, the first four tasks of the Forward Drive project will be conducted concurrently in preparation for small-scale field tests.
- The first task is financial modeling that considers advancements and future adoption of autonomous, connected, electric and shared vehicles as a growing component of roadway miles.
- The second task is to conduct an in-depth equity analysis, which will identify and measure potential disparate impacts of RUC to communities of color, low-income households, vulnerable populations and displaced communities. The project will also develop impact mitigation strategies.
- The third task will include updated mileage reporting methods such as identifying and testing new technologies, as well as enhanced in-person mileage reporting options. The in-person mileage reporting options may include entering into partnerships with a wider range of businesses to offer mileage verification services to the public. The P3 approach was first tested in the WA RUC Pilot Project, with promising results.
- The fourth task entails collaborating with other states to explore strategies to reduce the administrative costs of collecting RUC.
Once the four primary tasks are completed, Forward Drive will develop a detailed plan to incorporate advancements into a test plan followed by smaller RUC prototype “subtests.” These are small-scale tests of the new mileage reporting methods, equity policies, collecting RUC from ride-hailing vehicles such as Uber and Lyft and testing cost reduction techniques. Finally, it will include a detailed RUC roadmap on how Washington and other states can right-size a RUC policy and system. A specific deliverable will also offer a framework on how transportation policy and funding choices can be reexamined in light of increases in RUC revenue.