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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Traveling Down the OReGO Trail

I Signed Up For OReGO!

I've been critical of the Oregon mileage tax plan called OReGO. While I understand the need for road funds, there are fundamental flaws in the system. I have a lot of questions that were not answered in their FAQ. One of these, for example, is how is the amount of gas tax that I pay tracked? If this program exempts me from the gas tax (replacing it with a mileage tax), how am I refunded the gas tax that'll still pay at the pump? To truly understand how the program works, I signed up.

So I am saying that the OReGO program is flawed and I think there is a better way, but I signed up for it anyway. This seems incongruent but this program is a first in the nation and it is being watched by many other states and the federal government. The lessons learned here could shape the future of national transportation infrastructure funding and I don't think the participant list should be populated exclusively with ideologues.

To be fair and allow people that might be more supportive and enthusiastic about the program have a chance, I waited two weeks after enrollment opened before trying to sign up. The program is limited to 5000 vehicles.

They were still accepting applicants. There are two vehicles that I own and drive: a Nissan Leaf electric car and a Honda Passport SUV. The Leaf is my daily commuter and the Passport is used for occasional camping, skiing, or hauling trips. I've previously discussed why I have these two vehicles in my "fleet" here and how, eventually, I'll consolidate into a PHEV SUV, if one ever comes to the US.

On the OReGO site, I selected signup and entered the data for my two vehicles. Surprisingly, the Leaf did not qualify for the program. Why not? It's a modern car with an OBD II port for their monitoring device. One of the major aspects of the OReGO initiative is to collect taxes from high mileage vehicles that are "not paying their fair share", so I was surprised to see the Leaf rejected. Here is the explanation they provided:

The SUV, on the other hand, had no problems and was accepted. The SUV gets about 17 MPG. With the state gas tax of 30¢ per gallon, that works out to ~1.8¢ of road funds per mile. The OReGO program will reduce this to 1.5¢ per mile. Then there is the overhead of paying for the monitoring device and the 3rd party fees for collecting (the device uses the cellular network), storing, and analysing the data. This overhead means that about 40% of the money collected goes just to funding the OReGO program itself. So now the "roads" are only getting 0.9¢ per mile of funds from the Passport. With the discount from 1.8¢ to 1.5¢ and the 40% overhead, that about a 50% reduction in funds from the SUV that go towards filling potholes or shoring up bridges.

So the electric car didn't qualify and the useful funds from the SUV are reduced by about half. I am not seeing how this program will improve our transportation funding shortfall, but I am curious how the experiment will play out.

The OReGO site has blogs by other participants that support the program. There are ODOT employees, local politicians, policy wonks and the like, but as far as I know, I am the only person signed up that is critical of the program. So don't expect to see my blog posts republished on the OReGO site anytime soon; but that's OK, I'm happy just writing here in my own little corner of cyberspace.

I'll keep you updated on my travels down the OReGO trail.