SALEM -- Fewer gas guzzlers are on the road in Oregon, and that means less money collected in gas taxes.
The Albany Democrat-Herald and the Oregonian report that the state will begin testing a plan that would tax drivers based on how many miles they drive, in response to the drop in tax revenue.
The plan, which could use a smart phone app, is expected to be tested in the fall. The phone would connect to an onboard device that would track miles and calculate the tax.
The pilot program is part of a bigger plan being put together by a state task force looking for alternatives to the gas tax. State legislators and transportation commissioners will be used in the pilot program this fall.
ODOT tried something similar in 2006 but there were concerns from the public about privacy issues.
Driving the issue is a drop in revenue from the state fuel tax, which pays for highway and bridge maintenance. Revenue is falling as fuel efficiency increases and as more people are expected to drive hybrids or electric cars.
The Road User Fee Task Force in 2006 looked at a GPS-based system that could track the number of miles a vehicle was driven. However, fearing their whereabouts could be tracked, drivers strongly opposed the system.
The idea is now dead, said Jim Whitty, director of the task force, told the Democrat-Herald a month ago.
We have completely changed the approach, Whitty said. We're moving away from a mandate for a government box in your car, and from GPS.
The group is instead reviewing various electronic systems that already measure and report mileage.
What we've done is taken a hard look at what we need, Whitty said. And also that the public needs to accept it.
The ODOT, he said, could designate several methods to keep track of mileage and allow drivers to choose one, such as a system used by an insurance company that bases fees on how far customers drive.
One cellphone application shows only in-state mileage so motorists using it would not be charged for travel elsewhere. A flat yearly tax would be another choice.
Transportation officials plan to approach the 2013 legislature with a bill authorizing a mileage tax for vehicles that don't pay gas tax.
The state may also someday propose a mileage-based system for all vehicles, not just hybrids and electric cars.