June 29, 2016 12:00 PM, EDT

California’s VMT Program Gets Going as Oregon’s Reaches 1-Year Mark

Devine Intermodal

As Oregon’s vehicle mile tax pilot program hits the one-year mark on July 1, California’s nine-month program, which unlike Oregon’s includes commercial vehicles, is just beginning. The programs monitor miles driven with projected charges that allows drivers to compare those to the actual fuel taxes paid.

Oregon, which had originally sought 5,000 volunteers, had 885 active drivers and 1,015 active vehicles as of June 21, according to Michelle Godfrey of the state’s Department of Transportation. California had enrolled 1,700 of its maximum of 5,000 drivers, including the minimum of 50 commercial trucks, in Road Charge by June 28 with the rest expected onboard by mid-July, according to Carrie Pourvahidi of the state’s Department of Transportation.

“With the FAST Act signed, there’s a sense of urgency for us to get our Road Charge pilot going and completed so we can start maybe moving toward a federal program,” Pourvahidi told Transport Topics. “We have a priced-base excise tax in California that’s adjusted every year. It’s going down in July [to 10 cents-per-gallon, less than half of it was in June 2014] so we’ll be collecting even less revenue. We don’t see it going back up so we need to find another revenue source that’s stable and sustainable.”

Devine Intermodal agrees, which is why the West Sacramento truckload firm has signed up 17 of its 150 trucks.

RELATED: Senate Working Group Promotes VMT Program to Boost Trust Fund

“Every driver should be paying equally to maintain the roads,” said Adam Gallagher, safety director for Devine Intermodal, who liked ERoad’s device so much that he upped the order from the original two trucks to 17 in which they’re mounted on the dashboard near the windshield. “As we get these more fuel-efficient vehicles, they use the roads the same amount, but they’re not generating the same tax revenue to fix the roads. The ERoad device also gives us a lot of other information including electronic logging. We think it’s going to be beneficial for our company.”

Oregon DOT spokeswoman Michelle Godfrey said the state’s program, MyOReGo, is “working terrific,” citing a 90% retention rate by drivers who enrolled. MyOReGo will continue until or unless the Legislature, which doesn’t reconvene until February, ends it.

MyOReGo doesn’t include trucks because they’re already subject to a weight mile tax in Oregon.

“Since we’ve had a weight mile tax in Oregon for decades, we get a little bit of a chuckle watching automobile drivers contemplate this VMT program,” said Oregon Trucking Association President Jana Jarvis said. “It hasn’t been accepted very well. They were looking for 5,000 volunteers. But when the Legislature considers the transportation package next year, I think it will want to find a way to address the contributions to the [wear and tear of the] roads of the growing number of Tesla drivers and the ton of hybrid owners. Maybe that will be through higher vehicle registration fees.”

In contrast to Jarvis, Eric Sauer, Vice President of the California Trucking Association, was in on the ground floor of Road Charge as one of 15 members of its technical advisory committee, making sure that the device wouldn’t conflict with any other technology in a truck’s cab.

“The Road Charge concept isn’t embraced by the industry, but our membership supported us being in the pilot,” Sauer said. “We had a pretty large footprint in designing the program from the trucking industry’s perspective. This allows carriers to get familiar with the program and work through any issues if this proves to be viable. But if it doesn’t work for our members, we won’t support being part of this. In that case, then we march on another opportunity to try to solve the transportation funding crisis in California. We support higher fuel taxes as long as they go for their intended purpose.”

No matter how California’s program is evaluated when it ends in April 2017, Jarvis feels fees for miles traveled are the wave of the future for trucking.

“I think that you’ll more likely see states adopting weight mile taxes for heavy vehicles than for automobiles,” she predicted. “It’s easier to regulate an industry than it is to regulate your constituency.”