For about a century, California has been relying on a gas tax paid at the pump to provide some funding for the construction and maintenance of roadways in the state.
For decades, a gas tax was a simple measure that drivers would pay in roughly equal measure of use since cars generally got the same amount of gas mileage. As fuel-efficient hybrids and electric vehicles hit the market, less tax is being collected from motorists, rendering the current gas tax antiquated.
According to NPR, these issues were starting to be noticed as early as nearly 10 years ago.
California is researching what a road charge system might look like in the state, but it’s still years away from implementation.
“Currently our transportation system is probably about 80% funded by the gas tax,” Caltrans Road Charge Manager Lauren Prehoda said. “We’ve got to fix this problem, we need to find a replacement.”
With one of the largest highway systems in the nation, Prehoda spoke with CapRadio Host Randol White about some plans for a possible future “road charge.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On what a road charge would entail
Currently our transportation system is probably about 80% funded by the gas tax. We’ve got to fix this problem — we need to find a replacement.
So that’s what the state is looking at road charge as a potential for. It’s a per-mile fee that’s just one rate for all passenger vehicles.
Everyone pays the same to use the road as we look to a future without fossil fuels.
On how Caltrans will implement this without intruding on privacy
Privacy is critical to the way that we’re thinking about road charge.
So the question comes then of how individual data is used. We really want to consider the California Consumer Privacy Act and some of the principles that have been outlined in that giving people choices on how to opt-in or opt-out of various data being used. [Such as] the right to be forgotten and things like that, that’s going to play into it.
And then ultimately, we’re going to be looking at a range of reporting options that people can choose from, some of them very high tech, because it’s super easy, and those may involve location tracking, but at the other end, very low tech [options].
At the end of the day, all you need for a road charge tax bill to be created is the number of miles. The state does not need to know your location at all.
On if other states will be implementing similar programs
There are a large number of states looking at this. We are part of a … consortium of 19 states that are currently studying this, more on the west side.
You’ll have the Eastern Transportation Coalition, which is the entire Eastern Seaboard. The state of Oregon and the state of Utah have active road charge programs right now. And Virginia’s rolling one out this year.
On when the state may roll out a road charge program and if it needs approval before implementation
It absolutely needs legislative approval … I wish I had a crystal ball [to predict a date of implementation].
What I do know is [we’re working on] a research plan, and when we’re anticipating to wrap up all of our pilot, we’re hoping to do that about in the beginning of 2024.
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