SANDAG votes to exclude 'road user charge' from future transportation plans
Board members of the San Diego Association of Governments voted Friday against including a policy that would charge drivers by the mile in their 2025 regional transportation plan.
The policy, called the "road user charge," was in SANDAG's most recent transportation plan, adopted in December 2021. Supporters said it was a cost-effective way to discourage driving and raise billions to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as new rail lines, rapid bus services and free public transit.
But the policy faced fierce backlash, primarily from Republicans who said drivers couldn't afford to pay any more taxes than they do now. SANDAG board members — Republicans and Democrats — ultimately directed the agency's staff to remove the road user charge from the 2021 regional plan. Staff have been working for nearly two years on rewriting the plan and preparing a new environmental analysis that they will present to state regulators.
San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones spoke to reporters before Friday's board meeting, saying the road user charge should never be reconsidered.
"I cannot personally support a fee or a tax that will be charged to all car drivers that doesn't even maintain or build any lanes or highways," Jones said.
The board's vote Friday has no impact on the state of California's continued pursuit of a road user charge. States including Oregon, Utah and Virginia have already started transitioning to a road user charge in an effort to replace dwindling gas tax revenues.
Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz said those revenues would continue to fall as more people drive electric vehicles. He added that policymakers still have to come up with a new tax or fee system to fund transportation infrastructure.
"I am all for having an informed conversation about ways to equitably pay for our road system," Kranz said. "Those people who are driving Teslas, they don't really contribute much to our road system."
SANDAG is in the early stages of developing its 2025 regional transportation plan. That plan will have to meet a state mandated goal of reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 19% by 2035.
But even those sharp cuts to emissions will not be enough to meet California's goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. That goal of carbon neutrality has been adopted by the governor and state lawmakers, but it has not yet been incorporated into the mandates imposed on SANDAG.