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Friday, July 31, 2015

Traveling the OReGO Trail - Jumpy GPS Response

I recently posted a blog entry where I showed that the route shown by the OReGO program is not 100% accurate
Bad route data

I asked the OReGO administrators about this and here is their response:
Dear Patrick,

Thank you for contacting Azuga OReGO Customer Care with your concerns. We take them seriously. I'll explain how the route is plotted but want to first assure you that actual mileage readings are provided by the device from the vehicle, not generated from the plotted route.

The device reads GPS Latitude and Longitude values every 30 seconds from the device. The dark blue points on the route denote the GPS point. These lat/long values are sent to Google for reverse geo-coding which is resolved to an address. The route shown on the map is the most probable one taken by the vehicle as determined using the values and mapping software.

Occasionally, a turn or circle that does not belong on your trip is plotted due to GPS drift. These minor anomalies appear on your trip history, but are not used to determine your mileage or Road Usage Charge (RUC). Mileage is measured off of the Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) which is the same accurate reading that is sent to your vehicle's odometer.

Again, we thank you for your concern on accuracy as it is a major focus for Azuga. We appreciate you participating in this pioneering road and infrastructure maintenance program and wish you happy driving.

Thank you,
Azuga OReGO Customer Care

There you have it. The GPS location data is not used to determine the trip distance. The route does not need to be perfect for their trip calculations. The GPS location is only needed to determine if you are in the state and on public roads.

I'm still not sure why Google says it was 8.1 miles door to door while OReGO says that it was an 8.3 mile drive. I'll check the odometer next time I make that drive.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Traveling the OReGO Trail - Jumpy GPS

OReGO is the new mileage tax program that is currently under test in Oregon. I signed up to experience the program and see how it works (and to share my experiences here).

Below is trip from the OReGO partner site that tracks miles driven.

GPS recorded trip with bad data 
In the image above, there are three circled show places that I did not drive during this trip. Google maps shows that the route that I took was 8.1 miles, while the OReGO site has this trip listed as 8.3 miles.

It's not surprising that the GPSr unit would not get a great signal. If you've ever done any geocaching then you know that the coordinates can move around with even minor cover obstructions. The OReGO GPSr is under a dash, surrounded by electronics, wrapped in a steel and glass shell, all while zooming down the street. It's amazing that it works as well as it does.

GPSr unit that plugs into the OBD II port
The OReGO program is going to need to be improved to compensate for GPSr errors (tunnels, tree cover, etc.). The unit could read the odometer and vehicle speed and use this data as well as the GPS coordinates to more accurately measure the distance traveled. In the trip above for example, the minor errors are not significant, but the third and largest error has me getting on the freeway, taking an exit, getting back on the freeway and zipping back, all in the length of time that I traveled the on a freeway overpass. To do this in such a short period of time, I would have been traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. That is not possible on highway 26 at any time of day.

In this case, the additional money charged for the jumping GPS didn't matter. Despite the additional mileage, they seemed to get the fuel consumption right. So that just meant that I received a slightly smaller refund of my gas tax than I otherwise would have.

One reason to run a pilot program like this is to work out the bugs. I hope they are looking for these minor moments of lightspeed in the data so they can correct for them or find out who has discovered the next great interstellar travel solution.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Traveling The OReGO Trail - First Trip

As mentioned in an earlier posts, I've signed up for the OReGO program to see firsthand how the program works. The vehicle I signed up is a 17MPG SUV that I don't drive much.

My first trip is now logged in the system. Ironically, this trip included a stop at the gas station to fill up the tank.

Here is the trip data from the OReGO site:

Depending on your screen size this image may be very hard to read, but I'll walk you through it. The trip was 4.1 miles. They computed that it used 0.33 gallons of gas. The state gas tax is 30¢ per gallon, that mean I paid 10¢ in fuel tax for that 1/3rd of a gallon. The OReGO road tax is 1.5¢ per mile, so 4.1 miles costs 6¢. My 10¢ of gas tax is replaced with 6¢ of mileage tax; this means I get a refund of 4¢.

So, when I drive around in my gas guzzling SUV, my OReGO account will be accruing money. How do I withdraw funds? When this experiment is over (likely when I trade-in this SUV), I'll withdraw the funds and make a donation to my local EV club.

This answered one of my questions about the program. "How do they know how much gas tax I paid?" They do not track (or require reporting) of the gas tax payments. Instead, they compute the gas tax based on fuel use monitoring. They assume fuel used in the state, was purchased in the state. What if I fueled up in Vancouver, WA? I would be getting refunded for a tax I didn't pay and then a discount refund payment on top of that. Would that be tax fraud or evasion? I hope not.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tesla is the Modern 4-Minute Mile

Before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier in 1954, it was said to be impossible. Experts claimed that it was not humanly possible to run a mile in less than four minutes. Your heart would explode if you made it, they said. You were crazy to even try it, or so the stories go.

Despite these expert opinions, the 'impossible' was achieved.

Two months after Bannister's accomplishment, two competing runners both ran sub-four-minute miles in the same race. Bannister had removed the barrier. The impossible was now possible.

Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier

This is analogous to Tesla Motors in several ways. When Tesla started, experts said it was impossible. There had not been a successful new car company in over 50 years. There was no market for EVs, especially not $100,000 ones. You could definitely not start a car company in California; you were crazy to even try...

It always seems impossible until it's done. 
~Nelson Mandela

That was then. Now Tesla's cars have piles of accolades. They had a successful IPO and their stock is flying high. They have the most innovative vehicle on the road today, a worldwide network of charging stations, their third vehicle is coming soon, and they have the world's largest battery factory in the works. I think it is safe to say that Tesla has broken down a few barriers.

Now that the trail has been blazed, there are two competitors trying to follow in Tesla's footsteps. Certainly, there are legacy automakers that are making EVs (Nissan and BMW to name a couple) but these two new companies are much more in the footsteps of Tesla; they pure electric start-ups and even based in California.

The two start-ups trying to wind draft on Tesla Motor's success are Atieva and Faraday Future.

Both are hiring ex-Tesla employees to clone whatever bit of Tesla culture they can, while making appeals to all the venture capital investors that are kicking themselves for missing out on their chance to own a big chunk of series A round funding in Tesla.

It is hard to say if either of these companies will have a future, but they are just the first of many we'll likely see in the next few years. These are interesting times.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Traveling the OReGO Trail - Saddle Up!

As I mentioned here, I signed up for OReGO.

Part of the program a device plugs into the vehicle's OBD II port to track the vehicle and report the mileage. The device arrived recently.

Tracking unit for the OReGO millage tax program
I popped the GPSr device into the vehicle and followed the Quick Start instructions. The unit registered and I received an email saying that my vehicle was now online with OReGO. 

This email was quickly followed by another stating that my cash balance was low ($0). The Azuga site wants you to pre-fund your account and then allow them to withdraw funds as you drive. This is not how I pay my phone bill, but it is sort of how I was paying the gas tax since I paid the tax when filling up and before burning the gas. So I put $5 (the minimum amount) in the account. I figured I'd start small and see how it goes.

This account doesn't pay any interest, so there is no reason to have more than the minimum amount in there. If OReGO grows, as many in the transportation department would like to see, then millions of drivers would be funding these accounts. Even with small balances, Azure would be managing millions of dollars and paying no interest. hmmm. Also, is it FDIC insured? 

As soon as I have my first trip logged, I'll be sure to share it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The New Electric Avenue

In 2012, Portland State started an experiment called Electric Avenue. It was planned as a two year study of electric vehicle charging patterns. A one block stretch near the campus was selected and filled with 6 level 2 charging stations, bookended by 2 CHAdeMO stations.

The site was very popular with Portland going EV drivers. There were enough stations that you could usually get a parking space and charge up. The parking was not free, this helped ensure that people moved their cars once they had filled up enough to move on down the road to their next stop.

When the 2 year shutdown date approached, the EV community asked for the project to be extended and PSU was kind enough to do so; however, they made it clear that this was only a 1 year extension to allow planning for a new location.

On July 1st, 2015 that one year extension ended and Electric Avenue officially closed. The site was in rather sad shape for much of the final year. The person that had championed for the creation of the project had retired and the fact that it was scheduled for shutdown meant that the EVSE providers were not putting it high on the priority list for repairs.

On July 28th, the new Electric Avenue of Portland opens. It will be on SW 1st and Salmon St. near the Portland General HQ.

The ribbon cutting is on July 28th at 10AM at 121 SW Salmon St. All are welcome, although the Electric Ave parking spots will be filled with show vehicles. So please plan on other parking locations (or take the MAX).

The new Electric Avenue has:
  • 4 Dual connector (CHAdeMO or CCS) Efacec DCQC- Credit Card or OpConnect card
  • 2 High Power (80A) Clipper Creek L2 Stations 

 More DCQC spots should improve availability.

Anyone know how to remove the old locations from PlugShare?

Happy charging!

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Road Funds Part 6 - OReGO

We have been looking at way to fund the roads and bridges. This discussion was started because of  OReGO the program that Oregon is trying out to replace the gas tax. We have discussed OReGO here several times, most recently here.

I admit that I am not a fan of the program, but we have established our scoring criteria and so let's see how OReGO does.

First for non-fleet vehicles, there are two options. One of the options collects location information, the other does not. If you allow your location data to be collected, you can avoid paying the road tax when you are out of state or on private roadways. Both methods require a device to be plugged into your car's ODB II port, but privacy and out-of-state driving fees are both in our scoring criteria, so we'll need to score these two variants of OReGO separately.

When we wrap this series up, we'll discuss the implications of the program in more detail, but for now, let get the scores. Here are our 7 vectors:

Road fund taxes/fees should:
1) Have some correlation to road wear
2) Not be excessively regressive
3) Provide adequate funds for transportation maintenance needs
4) Be simple to pay
5) Allow for collection without invasion of personal privacy
6) Allow for out-of-state travel without paying in-state road fees
7) Tax drivers from out-of-state when they are using Oregon roads

OReGO GPS Option: 

1) Correlation to road wear - 80 points
This program correlates to road wear better than say property taxes, but it has no weight component, so it has a minor deduction. The deduction is small because in this weight range, the impact of vehicle weight is not a significant factor in road wear calculations.

2) Not A Regressive Tax - 100 points
This program is less regressive than the gas tax. It is also not as progressive as the property tax. To get full points in this category, the only requirement was to be "not be excessively regressive". This tax meets that bar.

3) Provide adequate funds - 100 points
This mileage tax isolates the tax rate from the fuel economy of the vehicle. The average fuel economy could increase every year and this method would still collect the needed funds.

4) Simple to pay - 0 points
To use OReGO, you have to setup a digital wallet and fund it with a credit card or bank account. So far these are just one-time setup items and not too difficult. But the hard part, the reason it scores a zero IMHO is because you have to track the tax that you pay at the pump. There is no way to wave a wand at the pump to tell them that you are in the mileage tax program. This means that you will have to keep track of this and provide the data to the OReGO program, then you will pay or receive a refund based on the OReGO tax vs the gas tax. Sounds complicated to me. If the gas tax were completely removed, and you only had to deal with the OReGO tax, this would score higher. However, currently, both are in place and since only 5000 vehicles out of the millions in the state in in OReGO, this item scores a zero.

5) Privacy - 10 points
There is a GPS enabled device in your car. The only reason that this scores any points is because they have made some effort to scrub the data before it is ever seen by the state. Here is what they say in the FAQ:
Commercial Account Managers collect location information to determine whether you are driving inside or outside Oregon, and for the purposes of administrating their value-added services. In the regular operation of the program, location information is not disclosed to ODOT. ODOT employees may review data for program audit purposes. All program-related data remains confidential based on Oregon Law and ODOT policy.
That sounds pretty clear to me that location data is collected and it can be reviewed for auditing or unusual purposes.

6) Out-of-state travel - 100 points
If you travel outside of Oregon, you will not have to pay the OReGO tax. Of course if you buy gas in another state, you'll be paying their gas tax.

7) Tax out-of-state drivers - 100 points or maybe 0 points later
If 100% of the vehicles in the state were on this program, then the gas could be eliminated. That would simplify paying (see #4), but if the gas tax was gone, that would mean that out-of-state drivers would not pay anything for the road wear they cause. So as it is today, with the gas tax remaining as the mileage tax is tested, it scores 100 points.

Adding it up, the OReGO GPS option scores 490 points.

OReGO No GPS Option 

The No GPS option is similar in several regards. Items 1-4 and 7 are the same as the GPS option.

1) Correlation to road wear - 80 points

2) Regressive Tax - 100 points

3) Provide adequate funds - 100 points

4) Simple to pay - 0 points

5) Privacy - 60 points
The No-GPS option scores better than the GPS option since your location data is not collected. Here is what the OReGO FAQ says:
The ODOT Account Manager (Sanef) does not collect location information, only miles driven and fuel consumed. All program data is destroyed on a set schedule per program policy.
So they still have a record of how many miles you have driven on any given day. This is far more information than they can collect from an odometer reading at the DMV.

6) Out-of-state travel - 0 points
Every miles that you drive under the No-GPS program is taxed. If you drive to another state and buy gas, you will be paying the OReGO tax and the other state's gas tax.

7) Tax out-of-state drivers - 100 points

Adding up the No GPS OReGO program scores 440 points.

Scores so far:
 raising the gas tax 520 points
 increasing property taxes 380 points
 increasing vehicle registration 380 points
 tire tax 350 points
 GPS OReGO 490 points
 No GPS OReGO 440 points

OReGO scores better than several of the options that we've explored but simply raising the gas tax is still the high score option.

Toll roads, congestion zones, and many other ideas are still to come.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Road Funds Part 5 - Tire Tax

In this series we're exploring different ways that Oregon could possibly fund roads as the gas tax revenue decreases. Each idea is scored against the criteria we defined in part 1.

One of the ideas that's been proposed is a tire tax. Today's gas tax averages about 1.5 cents per mile. Passenger car tires generally last 30 to 50 thousand miles, so the tax would be $450 to $750 for a set of 4 tires. That is about $100 to $200 in tax per tire. Given that tires generally cost $90 ±, this is more than a 100% tax.

Paying for tens of thousands of miles of state road taxes on day 1 of a tire purchase is prohibitive and could more than double the price of the tire. Charging more than 2X for tires in Oregon would encourage people to find a way around the tax. Tire sales over the border in surrounding states and online would spike while the tire market in the state would likely collapse.

I find this to be an impractical method of excising a tax. Despite this, let's run it through our scoring and see where it lands.  

Road fund taxes/fees should:
1) Have some correlation to road wear
2) Not be excessively regressive
3) Provide adequate funds for transportation maintenance needs
4) Be simple to pay
5) Allow for collection without invasion of personal privacy
6) Allow for out-of-state travel without paying in-state road fees
7) Tax drivers from out-of-state when they are using Oregon roads

1) Correlation to road wear - 100 points
Tires wear with use, so there is an excellent correlation.

2) Regressive Tax -  20 points
This tax is not based on income, property, or even the tire cost.

3) Provide adequate funds -  100 points
Assuming the taxes were actually paid (which is a big assumption), this tax could replace the gas tax.

4) Simple to pay - 30 points
The simple model is that you just pay the tax when you buy the tire. On the surface, it seems simple. There is no additional information or tracking required. But looking deeper, there are many complications to this tax. If a tire gets punctured soon after you buy it, do you get a refund of the tax? If so, who assesses the miles driven on that tire? If tires are retreaded, do you have to pay more road tax?

5) Privacy - 100 points
Buy a tire, pay the tax. Just like any sales tax, no personal information needs to be collected.

6) Out-of-state travel - 0 points
Once you have bought the tires, you have paid the tax. It does not matter where you travel, you would not get a refund for miles outside of Oregon.

7) Tax out-of-state drivers - 0 points
It is unlikely that any but the most desperate travelers would buy tires in Oregon if they have a very high road tax.

Adding it up, the Tire Tax only scored 350 points on our scale, making it the lowest scoring option that we have examined yet.

Scores so far:
 raising the gas tax 520 points
 increasing property taxes 380 points
 increasing vehicle registration 380 points
 tire tax 350 points

Toll roads, congestion zones, and many other ideas are still to come.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Road Funds Part 4 - Vehicle Registration

Welcome to part four of our road funding exploration. Oregon has recently launched OReGO, a vehicle mileage tax. While it is easy to criticize any government policy (especially a tax), the hard part is coming up with a viable way to fund our mutual goals, so we'll look at several suggested funding methods (as well as a few of our own) and score them to see how they stack up.

In this post, we'll look at the idea raising the vehicle registration fees.

Oregon's first vehicle registration law was enacted in 1905. It was a one-time only fee of $3 and was dedicated to road construction. Today, a regular vehicle title is $77 per year (you have to pay for 2 years at a time) and, if your car requires smog checking, is usually rolled in with a DEQ fee. Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 26,000 pounds pay $90 per year.

Today, most people drive about 12,000 miles per year. Assuming an average fuel efficiency of 23 MPG, that means the average annual gas tax payment is ~$156. If the gas tax were to be completely replaced with a registration fee, we'd have to pay an additional $312 registration fee every two years. That would bring the total up to $466.

To assess each tax or fee idea, we'll walk through each item on the list and score it from 0 to 100. Let's see how an increased registration fee scores against the criteria we defined in part 1:

Road fund taxes/fees should:
1) Have some correlation to road wear
2) Not be excessively regressive
3) Provide adequate funds for transportation maintenance needs
4) Be simple to pay
5) Allow for collection without invasion of personal privacy
6) Allow for out-of-state travel without paying in-state road fees
7) Tax drivers from out-of-state when they are using Oregon roads

1) Correlation to road wear - 0 points
Registration has nothing to do with miles driven

2) Regressive Tax - 30 points
This fee have no coorelation to income or vehicle cost. It is generally regressive. The only reason it earns any points here is that lower income households don't tend to have Jay Leno garages with a card catalog of vehicles to select from.

3) Provide adequate funds - 100 points
The registration value could be selected to meet the road fund needs. In down economic years, the number of miles travels varies more than the number of registered vehicles.

4) Simple to pay - 100 points
Registration fees are already paid today. No new infrastructure is needed to collect these funds.

5) Privacy - 100 points
The state would not need to collect in additional information about you for this fee.

6) Out-of-state travel - 50 points
This fee is not associated to miles traveled, so it does not matter where you drive.

7) Tax out-of-state drivers - 0 points
Out of state drivers would not register their cars here and if there is no gas tax, then no fees would be collected from out-of-state drivers.

Adding it up, raising the registration fee scores 380 points. For reference, raising the gas tax scored 520 points and increasing property taxes scored the same 380 points. We still have several more funding methods to consider.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

OReGO Has No Wings

Willamette Week and Fox News don't agree on much. The Oregon Department of Transportation has managed to create something that the liberal newspaper and the conservative news channel agree upon. They both hate the new vehicle mileage tax that started in Oregon on July 1st.

The program is called OReGO and it is open to 5000 volunteers. The participating vehicles are fitted with a GPS unit that plugs into the car's diagnostic port. Drivers are charged 1.5 cents per mile on Oregon roads and they are refunded any gas tax they pay at the pump. 

So what is it that has both the left wing and the right wing upset with this program? 

Let's start with the left: OReGO taxes all vehicles at 1.5 cents per mile. This means that Hummers pay the same per mile as a Prius. With gas tax, there was an incentive to drive a fuel efficient vehicle. This flat rate removes the state tax incentive to have a smaller carbon footprint. 

Moving to the right: OReGO puts a GPS tracker in your car. Everywhere you go can tracked. The program is designed to have this information scrubbed by a 3rd party before it is seen by the state, but the invasion of privacy is big government stepping far over the line into our personal lives.  

There are more complaints on both sides, but these are the biggest two. This leaves the program vastly without support from the left wing or the right wing.

Without support from either political wing, OReGO
is like a plane with no wings. it's not going to fly