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Washington Mileage Tax Test Costs $2000 Per Participant
Washington state moves closer to adopting per-mile tax with a heavily subsidized pilot project.

Washington Transportation Commission meetingFederal taxpayers will pay over $2000 for each motorist who volunteers to participate in
a per-mile tax experiment in Washington. The state transportation commission met last week to review progress on the road usage charging pilot project, which was funded by a $3.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

Per-mile tolling is all the rage among transportation officials as the nature of the charge simplifies the process of raising rates outside of the normal political process. While the gasoline tax is far cheaper and simpler to administer, lawmakers often experience a public backlash when raising the rate. At 49.4 cents per gallon, Washington already has the second highest fuel tax in the nation, so officials are seeking new options.

"We are assessing people's reaction to the whole onboarding process of road usage charging," project manager Jeff Doyle explained to the commission last week.

Washington's per-mile tolling plan has signed up 1907 volunteers, 1493 of whom have filled out the survey required to collect a $10 Amazon gift card as a reward for their participation. Many applications for the program have been discarded because accepting every volunteer would have upset the demographic balance sought for the project. White men who drive electric vehicles expressed the most interest in signing up.

"We had way more males than females," Doyle explained. "Probably the area we struggled the most in... is the Hispanic population, which is about twelve percent of the state's population. In the pilot project, we were only able to enroll about four percent of that group."

Those accepted into the pilot project must register their vehicle with the program and either install a GPS tracking module or manually upload a photograph of their odometer on a monthly basis so that the state can track their driving habits. The state's contractors then crunch the numbers and mail out a customized statement showing how much each participant would have paid to drive the same mileage with the gas tax compared to how much they would have paid with the mileage tax. The system is not currently collecting money from motorists.

The test shows participants a mileage tax rate that matches the gasoline tax levy for an average user. It does not reflect the substantial overhead required to administer and eventually enforce the per-mile tax. Participants are being surveyed to see whether they find the information on the monthly invoices useful.

Before the per-mile tax could be imposed on every driver, the state legislature would have to approve the program. In addition to the $3.8 million in federal funds, state lawmakers gave D'Artagnan Consulting $500,000 to set up the pilot project.