Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dark Days Ahead; RUC, And Why I Think Big Oil Is Behind It

In early 2018 Washington State will be one of a handful of states doing a test run to investigate replacing its gas tax with a road usage fee or road usage charge (RUC).  The preliminary reports states a 2.4 cents per mile charge on WA State roads instead of the gas tax with we EVers obviously do not pay.

Now they have BS justifications stating people who don't drive much will pay a farer price instead of the flat $150 EV Tab renewal fee. The $150 EV Tab renewal fee (Does NOT apply at purchase its "renewal ONLY") consists of $100 that goes the route of the state gas tax and then $50 put towards a fund to support the public charging infrastructure.   One program funded by that $50 will provide grants, low interest loans and other support for private business owners to host public charging stations.   15 new stations have been announced as a result of the fund slated for completion by Summer 2019.

Don't believe a word of the propaganda!   Lets look at who the real benefactors are. First off, the WA State Gas tax (currently the 2nd highest in the Nation)  billed every gasser equally.  You either drove a lot, a little and the amount of gas you bought was a direct reflection of that combined with the vehicle you chose to drive.  This will result in a huge increase of money out some of WA citizen's pockets into the state but who is the real benefactor?

To answer that question, lets examine the bolded phrase above. We all know that their are benefits and repercussions to EVERY decision we make including the car we drive.  Washingtonians are leaders in the adoption of hybrids and electric vehicles and other options that reduces our carbon footprint.  Up until recently, WA State has rewarded us for that effort. My last 4 cars have been sales tax free.  Wait a second you say! "Dave you have only had 3 LEAFs?"  Yep, that is true but my purchase of my 2010 Prius in May of 2009 was also sales tax free.  This is a perfect example of WA progressively recognizing and rewarding the "right thing"  so why the HUGE backwards step here?

In 2012 WA started a study and one thing was clearly obvious. The gas tax was not doing its job. In 2017, gas tax revenue is expected to increase .7% but highway maintenance costs will go up 2.7%. In 2016 revenues went up .9%, Maintenance 2.4%,  2015 it was .7% revenue increase, 3.1% maintenance bump. As you can see, we are falling behind rapidly every single year.  So "something" had to change.

In the study, it was determined the average gasser was sucking up gas at the rate of 20.5 MPG. It doesn't take a math wizard to determine how the 2.4 miles per mile RUC came about.  The cracked logic here was that EVs and others buying "less than their fair share of gas"  consisting of a few percent of the cars on the road would increase revenue enough to cover the shortfall.

Anyone see a problem with this revenue model?  What it does is reverses the decade long incentive program to drive more efficient vehicles in WA and penalizes everyone driving a car that gets more than 20.5 miles per gallon. Even worse, it rewards everyone driving a car that gets WORSE than 20.5 miles per gallon and that is the bigger, heavier cars that by default DO MORE DAMAGE TO THE ROADS!  But the real problem is that is the ONLY increase in revenue would be from current EVers who don't pay anything more than the $100 annual tab fee into the system.

To illustrate; A Prius getting 50 mpg would pay an effective state gas tax of  $1.20 per gallon (2.4 cents per mile * 50 miles) while a diesel guzzling smoking behemoth weighing nearly twice as much getting 15 mpg will pay 36 cents.  Sounds good?? 

As bad as this is, its only the beginning of the wrongness of this program.  The only thing we know for sure is that we are not paying enough to drive on the roads. So increasing something is what we need to do. A growing percentage of EVs on the road along with Priuses is lowering the income But a wholesale change of revenue collection is not free, easy or even guaranteed to be effective.   From ITEP (Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy)  claims gas tax collection is more than 99.5 % efficient. IOW,  nearly ALL of your gas tax dollar makes it to the fund it is supposed to support.  Will RUC be able to match that? Or even come close?

Also how will tourists be billed? They use the road and a random survey of license plates tells me that they use our roads A LOT! How will they pay for the use?  Seems to me that loss alone is more than enough to lambast any thought of getting any extra money from the "still" minority of highly efficient vehicles on the road right now.  Maybe the study should have done a survey on gas purchases by out of state travelers?

Either way, something has to go up, not stay the same as the RUC seems to do. IOW, keeping revenue the same is a failure even if it can be pulled off smoothly and efficiently. So what to do?  Raising gas taxes seems like the worst thing to do but why is that?

When viewed as a percentage of families’ household budgets, state gas taxes are lower than at any point since the widespread adoption of those taxes at the end of the 1920’s. Focusing on the more recent past, ITEP found that state gas tax rates, adjusted for construction cost inflation, are a full 17 percent lower today than they were in 1990.
Ok, so if we are getting such a great deal on gas taxes then where is all the money going? Who has been benefitting the most all this time?  Well, guessing I don't need to answer that question.  So maybe gas tax increases are the answer? This continues to force larger, less efficient vehicles AND tourists to pay more while others who chose smaller highly efficient vehicles to pay less. Isn't that what we want?

As far as EVs?  We pay $100 towards the road fund now. That is a bit low. that is barely 6,000 miles in a 30 mpg car. I think that should be doubled.  It still comes nowhere near the cost of gasoline so the "carrot" lives!  But the reality is we shouldn't be paying as much because we are not creating the same level of damage to our environment.  Different argument?  Maybe but why should it be? The reality is Big Oil's grip on our legislature makes a new argument complete with legislation to address is still years away from succeeding.

As mentioned above, WA will be starting a pilot program to test RUC but lets not fool ourselves. They are doing this to iron out the kinks before instituting this program for real and we need to let our thoughts be known. Its pretty transparent who the real benefactors are here and its nothing more than another misinformation campaign by Big Oil to maintain their monstrous profits.

I am signing up and I hope you do as well.


During the pilot, you may be asked your thoughts on how more money should be collected, I would start with vehicle weight fees for any vehicle over 4,000 lbs billed in 1000 lb increments.  Increasing the gas tax is also required. This is very regressive so a program to help low income drivers move into more efficient vehicles would also be a great idea.  A lot of the issues we face today is our spiraling housing costs has forced many to compromise on transportation options and that means older, less efficient and poorly maintained vehicles on the road. "Cash for Clunkers" was a good idea but we should take that one step farther requiring all cars get  a minimal level of gas mileage like 30+ mpg.


  1. You might be interested to know that we in Wisconsin just had a version of this discussion in the last state budget. Even though we have a billion-dollar shortfall in road maintenance monies, the governor refuses to even consider putting even a penny on the gas tax. His "solution" is to charge electric cars a $100 surcharge (which I grudgingly support) and a $50 surcharge *on hybrids.* That is insane. It's charging drivers *more* for getting better gas mileage. Of course, this logic fell on deaf ears in the GOP-controlled State House.

    1. That won't even collect enough to overcome the cost to implement the program for at least a few years. Eventually it will raise money but sounds like you need it now. Check ITEP link I provided. their NUMBER ONE recommendation is raising gas taxes. Maybe your next question is "how much of your campaign was financed by Big Oil?"

    2. GOP here in Washington is reluctant to support RUC or higher fees on anyone.

    3. Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP are living under a rock..shameful for such a beautiful state to be governed as if we were in the dark ages.

  2. They are getting ready to do the same study here in Hawaii where EV make perfect sense. There is no where you can drive the is out of range of your vehicle and the traffic here is second only to LA. Thousands of ICE idling during rush hour. I'm with you, increase the gas tax and get more people switching to EV where we have the highest adoption rate of PV systems in the nation.

  3. David, with your very high mileage, your signing up for the RUC will certainly increase your personal cost. Are you doing it to prove that it is a bad deal for EV drivers? Once it is shown to soak a "moneyed minority" for extra revenue, what makes you think we could stop it, 'specially since SEVA pushed the initial concept?

    1. The entire reason I wrote this blog was two-fold.

      1) The incredible self-centered attitudes I encountered among the EV sect that drives little and thinks a puny $150 EV Tab fee is a rip off. Seems they had already forgotten about the size of their gas bill

      2) The 2nd reason was that so many people simply did not understand why this was happening and the impact to the state as a whole. We are a major tourist destination. We thrive on out of staters coming here and paying the 2nd highest gas tax in the nation. We LOVE that! and this would end that very beneficial relationship so the thought of allowing that was not in my wheelhouse. I may not make a difference if I try, but I know what happens if I don't!

  4. I personally don't have high milages, just traded our 2 year old Prius with 12000 miles for a Leaf as I had installed a PV system last year. It only made sense to use the PV for charging the car.

  5. Tax new tires by thier rated tone mile, that would be the most fair appointment!
    It is where the rubber mees the road!
    When the tire is wore out it has paid it's road usage.
    And finally we could fairly apportion the damage done by studded tires!

    1. In Germany, you could only have studded tires on in the winter season. You get caught outside the season, big huge fine.

  6. Wow, thats an excellent idea, I think. Will have to ponder that

  7. Then you could really get the kids you like to peel rubber too!

  8. Taxes are created for two reasons;
    1. To create and establish social behavior.
    2. To raise money for the function of government.

    Todays politicians have reason #2 as first and behaving as if reason #1 didn't exist.

    If social policy and behavior were to have a place in this issue, there would be little to no tax on BEV's and there would also be tax incentives and rebates encouraging people to purchase BEV's.

    Like wise, to drive the public away from ICE vehicles, the tax structure should be configured in a way to accomplish this goal. The larger the engine and vehicle, the larger the tax..be it reoccurring at the time of plate and sticker renewals, initial registration, or purchase.

    I would also like to see the Federal Income tax credit of $7,500 extended, subject to review in 10 years. This will allow the manufactures time in which to bring the best to the market place.

    PS: What a PITA to have to log in to Google with email and password..which I never remember of have immediate access to..to comment. Many comments are probably not forthcoming for this reason. Alternatives?

    1. I am not aware of alternatives. What gets me is I am logged into Google to work on the blog but have to log in AGAIN to comment on someone else's blog. Generally I use a password safe so its not too bad but still inconvenient.

      As far as the RUC, the only thing it will do is shift the bulk of the financial burden from the gass guzzlers (where it should be) to the high efficient vehicles that drive more miles. Its nothing but a classic bait and switch. For years, WA State subsidized EVs and Hybrids and now that they have sufficient market penetration the state is doing a complete 180!

    2. Yes..it's terribly sad and in a way the politicians are responding to what the populace wants..ICE vehicles, SUV's and so forth, which is equally if not more upsetting. Were they not in the pockets and under the boot of those funding their placement, one would hope that they would have in their vision that what is in the best interests of humanity and the planet...so most everyone has some "tar" on their hands.

      Thank you for your blog..informative and heart warming.