VMT is here!


So, let’s see if this VMT thing works.

Oregon is replacing the state’s gas tax with a “pay per-mile road usage charge” A.K.A. a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax/fee–you choose which to call it.

Wait, wait, don’t get all excited. Swapping your fuel tax for a VMT fee is for volunteers only.

But Oregonians who opt for VMT over pump payments will pay 1.5 cents for every mile they drive instead of 30 cents per gallon at the pump. And the program is limited to 5,000 drivers.

As the always-excellent Atlantic Cities reports, this move could be a valuable test case for the rest of the country. Oregon has lead the way in VMT testing. No surprise; Oregon also introduce the country’s first gas tax in 1919.  But with VMT, Oregon has progressed in a way that addresses some of the leading national fears about VMT, as Atlantic Cities’ Eric Jaffe points out.

“The state has been preparing the public for a per-mile road charge since back in 2007, when it completed a pilot program that demonstrated the viability of a VMT tax. The pilot had the dual effect of encouraging public support, with 9 in 10 participants liking the switch. Another pilot, which wrapped up earlier this year, tested five mileage reporting methods, from smartphone tracking to a simple odometer, to address the fears of Big Brother. This model of testing and transparency is exactly the approach that experts have recommended to overcome the public’s perception problem toward road pricing.”

I cannot tell you how many politicians and pundits I have listened to or followed over the past four or five years who have called for new ways to fund transportation infrastructure as the federal fuel tax become less and less able to keep up with demand and the Highway Trust Fund slowly withers. But not one of them has proposed new ways then stood behind their choice as the HTF savior. And almost all have said “no” to raising the fuel tax.

But money must be raised. So VMT is coming to a state near you. (And so are new tolls, but that’s another story.) So how Oregon and its 5,000 VMT testers fare means a lot to us right now.