Beginning this month, the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation will mail driving reports to thousands of vehicle owners across the state as its next step in researching the feasibility of adjusting to a per-mile road usage charge or RUC.
The research is part of a federally funded three-year study that began in 2018 to explore how RUC could replace the state gas tax and fund Hawaiʻi’s roads in the future.
Vehicle owners who get this customized report are asked to complete an online questionnaire at www.hiruc.org . Completed questionnaires are the best way for the public to provide input.
Across the country, states are grappling with the difficulty of taking care of their communities’ needs with dwindling revenue from gas taxes as cars grow more fuel efficient and drivers buy less gas, while the costs of maintaining and enhancing roads and bridges grow more expensive. Without a consistent source of funding, states are finding it difficult to deliver on the maintenance and capacity improvements the public is asking for. They are looking for other, fair ways to fund road and bridge maintenance. In Hawaii, the gas tax is one of the largest sources of state road funding, and revenue is declining.
HDOT is studying the replacement of the gas tax with a RUC system. In a RUC system, drivers would pay to use roads based on the number of miles they drive instead of how many gallons of fuel they burn. Like the gas tax, RUC funds would go into the highway fund which pays for the upkeep, improvement, and enhancement of the State surface transportation system.
“The driving report will start arriving in mailboxes in November for most car owners who recently had their annual safety inspection. It will compare what they paid in gas taxes over the last year to what a road usage charge could cost for the same vehicle and mileage,” said Director Jade Butay, Hawaii Department of Transportation.
The driving report will use the two most recent valid mileage records available for a vehicle through vehicle inspections, estimate the amount paid in gas taxes based on the vehicle make and model, and show what the same vehicle would pay under a RUC. The report is not a bill. No payment is required.
The gas tax was once a fair way to assess a person’s use of the transportation system. As new cars grow ever more fuel efficient, this is no longer the case. Now, some drivers pay significantly more than others for their use because they cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles. On average, this disproportionately impacts rural residents and low-income drivers. The RUC study allows us to see if there are systems that provide more parity, so everyone pays their share based on usage.
The first set of driving reports will go out to approximately 50,000 households in November. Starting in January and continuing throughout 2020, owners of about half a million vehicles will receive the driving reports and be asked to take the online questionnaire.
The driving reports are the next phase of research, which began with public meetings across the state. The feedback from those 14 meetings helped HDOT understand the public’s questions, concerns, and funding preferences. Feedback from the driving reports will help further refine the research before the final phase of the demonstration involving approximately 2,000 volunteers is launched across the state in 2020.
At the end of the three-year study, HDOT will provide a report to the Legislature and Governor, who would ultimately decide if the RUC is implemented in Hawaii, and to the federal government who is considering alternatives to funding the federal highway trust fund.
“Even if the research indicates the RUC is a feasible alternative to the gas tax, discussions with states who have been working on this for many years indicate that establishment of a new system could take up to 10 years, said Deputy Director Ed Sniffen, Hawaii Department of Transportation Highways Division. HDOT has already started moving forward on process adjustments, updated contracting vehicles, new construction materials, and advanced technologies to deliver more for the public now. We look forward to hearing from the public on their thoughts on the RUC and how we can improve our service to them.”