State seeks to move forward with mileage-based fee study

Published: Oct. 5, 2016 at 8:42 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 5, 2016 at 10:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state's proposal to get rid of the gas tax used to fund road repairs in favor a mileage-based user fee is needed to prepare for a future with far fewer gas-powered vehicles on the roads, officials said Wednesday.

The state Transportation Department wants to kick off a three-year demonstration project to study the proposal, but they need an OK from legislators first.

"We're just looking at where we are right now," said state Highways deputy Director Ed Sniffen.

He said just to repair and maintain state-owned highways and roads, the current fuel tax of 16 cents a gallon would need to double to about 34 cents by 2035. The demonstration project would determine how much money a per-mile tax could generate to cover one-third of the state Highway Fund.

"We're not looking at any increases in that 33 percent share or any decreases," Sniffen said. "We're just trying to get to what it's going to look like if we keep everything flat, the way it is,"

The department wants to launch the test project next year. It would monitor mileage on every registered vehicle.

Drivers would get sample bills for information purposes only, and the department would use the totals to calculate how much a mileage-based fee would need to be in order to generate the same amount of revenue as the gas tax currently does.

Owners of electric or hybrid vehicles who pay little or no fuel tax would also be included in the study.

"In the long-term we think it's really important to go away from the fuel tax to enable a future where all the cars on the road can be electric vehicles or hydrogen or bio-diesel," said Shem Lawlor, clean transportation director at Blue Planet Foundation.

Sniffen said if the mileage-based fee were put in place today, it would be about a penny a mile. He believes rural drivers with older vehicles pay more in fuel tax than they would under a per-mile tax.

The state says miles driven would likely be determined from odometer readings during vehicle inspections.

"It doesn't change a driver's routine at all. There's no additional tasks," said Jeff Doyle, of D'Artagnan Consulting, which conducted a feasibility study for a change to a mileage tax. "They don't have to have a device in their car to report if it they don't want."

But state Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, questions the sustainability of taxing drivers for the miles they drive.

"With all kinds of new autonomous vehicles and Ubers and these sorts of things being available, the question is, over the long term, how do you pay for infrastructure when fewer people own cars to begin with?" he said.

Sniffen replied, "All of this is going to be considered in the implementation of the demonstration project as we go forward."

If the state Legislature gives the go-ahead, the state would start the demonstration project next year.

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