Hybrids, EVs killing road budget, leads to charge-by-the-mile in California

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida Headshot

It turns out greater fuel efficiency is not so great—at least not for the Golden State.

California’s road and maintenance budget mostly relies on gas tax revenues. Now, the state’s reporting that since electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles make fewer trips to the pump, they’re inadvertently causing a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.

The solution?

Some in the state want to charge drivers by the mile instead of having them pay by the gallon.

The state announced this week that it’s seeking 5,000 volunteers to participate in its mandated pay-by-the-mile feasibility study.

“Whether you drive a gas-guzzling truck or an all-electric sedan, the road charge is the same per mile. Everyone pays their fair share,” Jim Madaffer, chair of the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee and California Transportation Commission member, writes in an editorial that the state released Tuesday.

“Several other states are already testing the road charge concept, and we must explore it further in California to determine if it is the right solution for us.”

Hybrids, electric vehicles and overall improved vehicle fuel economy has led to an annual funding gap of about $5.7 billion per year for the state’s highway system, Caltrans reports.

Carpooling has also decreased fuel consumption. For decades, the state has encouraged carpooling to help decrease emissions and traffic jams. Drivers buy less fuel as they ride together in one vehicle in carpool-only lanes that the state has set aside on several of its highways. However, Madaffer does not mention carpooling in his editorial.

California’s pay-by-the-mile pilot program will start this summer.

Final recommendations for the test program include: Give drivers multiple options to report miles driven; provide non-technological options for those who choose to report their miles manually; protect driver privacy and personal data; measure the impact of a road charge on rural and urban drivers; require no cost to participate.

Vehicle manufacturers, fuel distributors and highway users were among those consulted for the pilot program. Read more about the program at www.californiaroadchargepilot.com.