California Committee Explores Road Usage Charge In Place Of Gas Tax

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
By Hoa Quach, Maureen Cavanaugh, Megan Burke, Peggy Pico

Even really good ideas can have unexpected consequences. California's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The state has mandated cars have high-fuel efficiencies, and encouraged drivers to buy hybrid and electric vehicles — all in an effort to reduce gas consumption. It's been working so well that the state now has to find a new way to finance road maintenance because revenue from the gas tax, which is used to pay to maintain our roads, is shrinking.

This strange set of events has lawmakers in Sacramento trying to devise stop-gap measures to raise money for road repairs. And after the passage of Senate Bill 1077 in September 2014, a state advisory committee is working on coming up with the feasibility of changing to a road use charge.

California drivers pay 63.79 cents per gallon of gasoline. The number includes the federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. Caltrans estimates that California drivers pay about $368 per year in gas taxes.

Because of inflation and the rise in electric car use in California, the state's gas tax revenue has fallen from $2.87 billion in 2003 to $2.62 billion in 2013, according to the state.

Former San Diego Councilman Jim Madaffer is overseeing the California Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee, a 15-member group that will develop the pilot program for the road use charge.

"This is a very serious situation," Madaffer told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. "We're hoping the technical advisory committee, through the volunteers, can see what works for them. We want to make sure we do things for our people that work."

Madaffer, who also serves on the California Transportation Commission, described the gas tax model as "archaic."

"It doesn't work anymore," he said. "It's getting worse and worse as each year passes."

California isn't the only state looking into the road use charge model. Colorado and Washington are studying similar pilot programs, while Oregon will begin its pilot program on July 1. The state hopes to get about 5,000 volunteers.

Joe Rose, transportation columnist and writer for The Oregonian, said Oregon has signed up about 2,000 volunteers for its pilot program. The volunteers will pay 1.5 cents per mile driven. But it will be years before the state switches to a road use charge.

"They want to see what works best, what is most popular with drivers and implement it in the next five years in a larger scale," Rose said.