Should electric cars pay a per mile tax?

Should electric cars pay a per mile tax?

EUGENE, Ore. -  Kirk Gebb owns an all-electric Nissan Leaf.

Gebb doesn't buy any gas, which means he doesn't pay any gas tax.

"I just don't understand why more people don't adopt this," Gebb said. "Just so much more efficient than any gas vehicle is. It makes sense."

Many Oregonians agree: over the past decade, drivers here have purchased hybrid and electric cars at twice the national average.

But that presents a problem for the Oregon Department of Transportation, which relies on gas taxes to pay for nearly 60 percent of all road work.

For the past decade, James Whitty at ODOT has worked on an alternative system to the per gallon gas tax.

"Road system revenues will dry up and the system falls apart. Nobody wants that," Whitty said of the transition from gas to alternative fuel vehicles. "The fact that fuel efficient vehicles should pay or not isn't the question. They have to at some point pay, or you don't have a road system."

Whitty came up with something called the road usage charge pilot project.

The idea is to require hybrid or electric drivers to pay by the mile instead of at the pump. The proposal: one and a half cents for every mile driven in Oregon.

Over the course of a three month pilot program, a KVAL News test of a smartphone app and plug-in device resulted in a monthly mileage bill for $4.50.

"It just took us 10 years or so to figure out how to make it appropriate so people will find it not a difficult thing or frightening thing to do," Whitty said.

The legislation working its way through the state Capitol would slowly phase the road usage charge in. It would only initially apply to drivers whose cars get more than 55 miles a gallon. If passed as written, it won't go into effect until 2015.

Gebb, who owns a Leaf and is shopping for another alternative fuel car for his wife, is frightened by the privacy issues raised by the ODOT program. He doesn't like the idea of being tracked and would prefer to pay a flat, annual fee.

"Not looking for a free ride. Looking to pay my fair share," he said. "Just want that fair share to be a reasonable share."