CDOT completes first test of pay-by-mile roads fee

DENVER – The Colorado Department of Transportation has wrapped up its first study into a pay-by-mile road fee system that could someday replace the state’s gas tax.

As people drive more fuel-efficient vehicles and revenue from the gas tax falls – the state is estimating a funding shortfall of nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years – CDOT is looking at new ways to pay for highway construction and other road projects around the state.

One option is the “Road Usage Charge,” which would assess a fee for each driver based on how many miles they drive.

In an initial four-month pilot test of the program, CDOT enlisted 150 drivers from all over Colorado to try it out and give feedback. Drivers came from 27 counties and drove a variety of vehicles, from traditional gasoline-powered cars to hybrids and electric cars.

The RUC test looked into a number of different methods for measuring mileage, from manual odometer readings to GPS-based and non-GPS-based reporting devices.

Though drivers weren’t actually charged during the test, CDOT assumed a rate of 1.2 cents per mile.

Overall, participants in the test said they were satisfied with the program and the majority preferred the GPS-enabled option. More than 80 percent of participants said the road usage charge was fair and 73 percent said the estimated charges were the same or less than they expected, according to CDOT.

Assuming 1,000 miles driven per month and 1.2 cents per mile, the road usage charge would be $12 per month regardless of the type of vehicle. Compare that to an estimated $22 a month in gas taxes for cars that get 5 to 15 miles per gallon, $11 a month in gas taxes for cars that get 15 to 25 mpg, $6.29 in gas taxes for hybrids and $0 in gas taxes for electric cars.

CDOT Executive Director Mike Lewis said the results of the pilot are promising but more research is needed.

“The findings from this pilot gave CDOT data about participant preferences, reporting accuracy and potential revenue,” Lewis said. “We’ll continue to explore RUC as a potential funding alternative that will help us ensure we continue to have a healthy transportation system that works for our state’s economy and way of life.”

Some issues identified for further research in the pilot included how to distinguish between driving activity on private and public roads and how to handle out-of-state drivers.

CDOT will look into those issues in a second pilot, which is set to begin sometime in late 2018.

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