Estab­lish­ing a Model for RUC Policy Development in Washington 

Estab­lish­ing a Model for RUC Policy Development in Washington 
washington state transportation commission washington, usa
Following a multi-year assessment of a pay-per-mile charge as a replacement to the gas tax, the Washington State Trans­porta­tion Commission (WSTC) recommended road usage charging as a sustainable funding alternative for the state’s trans­porta­tion networks.

State DOTs and commissions, along with special legislative and guber­na­to­r­ial task forces and other regional agencies, have been actively exploring alternative funding mechanisms like road usage charging (RUC) systems for over two decades. Though widely recognized as a leading contender to replace the gas tax to fund future infra­struc­ture investment, RUC systems still face public acceptance and political challenges. These key impediments tend to fall into three categories: difficulty artic­u­lat­ing a persuasive case for RUC to a skeptical public, insuf­fi­cient political support of policy change, and formidable technical complex­i­ties. 

Several states have overcome these impediments and advanced RUC from concept to pilot testing; some have even enacted laws to create small-scale RUC systems. The Washington State Trans­porta­tion Commission (WSTC) is an orga­ni­za­tion that has helped Washington success­fully move from exploration of RUC to pilot testing and eventually to a proposal for a small start-up RUC system. 

“Our work in Washington has served as a model for how other states and even the federal government should approach RUC projects,” said deputy project manager Travis Dunn. “The Legislature identified a long-term problem with the gas tax very early on. They established a process for turning a shared vision for a more equitable, sustainable road funding system into reality,” he said.

The key, Dunn said, was a policy- and people-focused approach that addressed the legal, fiscal, operational, and user acceptance impacts of a RUC— taking into consid­er­a­tion public input, extensive research, statewide public engagement and detailed analysis of the participant feedback and system performance of a federally funded pilot program. 

The success of this pilot relied on the fact that we took the time to listen to residents’ and stakeholders’ specific concerns before we launched into any technology or system design.
jeff doyle, project manager
cent pay-per-mile charge
pilot program participants
%
pilot partic­i­pants who preferred RUC over gas tax 

Garnering Support Through a Well-Executed Pilot Program

In 2012, the Washington State Legislature directed the WSTC, in close cooperation with Washington State Department of Trans­porta­tion (WSDOT) and with guidance from a multi-stakeholder steering committee, to assess RUC, determine its feasibility, and study a number of policy issues. The work culminated in a robust year-long pilot program where 2,000 partic­i­pants from across the state tested a mock 2.4-cent pay-per-mile charge to determine if RUC could effectively replace the gas tax as a sustainable, long-term funding source for the state. Partic­i­pants selected one of five reporting options to record and report their mileage traveled and were encouraged to provide feedback on their personal experiences so WSTC and its partners could better understand the impli­ca­tions and impacts of a RUC system on end users.

After partic­i­pat­ing in the RUC pilot, drivers from all over Washington weighed in with their views on the system. Based on the results of surveys admin­is­tered at different intervals in the project, test drivers became more favorable towards a RUC over the gas tax, with 68% of respondents preferring a RUC over the gas tax or preferring it equally to the gas tax by the end of the pilot, while 19% preferred the gas tax. Moreover, the number of undecided partic­i­pants dropped from 26% at the beginning of the pilot to just 8% by the end. 

“The success of this pilot relied on the fact that we took the time to listen to residents’ and stake­hold­ers’ specific concerns, issues and recom­men­da­tions before we launched into any technology or system design,” said project manager Jeff Doyle. “We were then able to use that feedback to design a customized program based on those acceptance factors, which put us in the best position to build consensus around RUC as a fiscal policy.”

In January 2020, the WSTC submitted a report that includes analysis and findings of the legal, fiscal, operational, and policy impacts of a road usage charge and provides 16 recom­men­da­tions for how RUC could be implemented in Washington. A draft bill was recently introduced and is currently pending.

Our work in Washington has served as a model for how other states and even the federal government should approach RUC projects.
travis dunn, project manager
Travis Dunn Travis Dunn
This project established a process for turning a shared vision for a more equitable, sustainable road funding system into reality.
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