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Oregon Eases Privacy Fears About Mileage-Based Highway Tax

The architect of a new mileage-based tax system in Oregon says his state has figured out how to assuage privacy fears, paving the way for serious consideration of the plan as a replacement for the gas tax.

Under an expanded pilot program made law last year, Oregon’s Transportation Department will sign up 5,000 drivers to pay 1.5 cents per mile in road taxes instead of 30 cents per gallon on the gas they buy. Participants can choose from a variety of reporting devices, including some that use global positioning system technology and others that don’t.

“Having that choice is critical for getting broad support,” said Jim Whitty, Oregon’s manager of innovative partnerships and alternative funding who is overseeing the pilot program.

Privacy concerns have long overshadowed the conversation around replacing the lagging gas tax with a levy based on the miles a vehicle travels. Whitty’s team was able to address those fears and get support from the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that has expressed concern about government tracking of vehicles under a mileage-based tax.

Instead of issuing only one kind of device, Oregon is setting standards for private companies to produce different tracking devices, some with GPS and some without. Whitty said he isn’t concerned about which device users end up choosing because his office is only tasked with fine-tuning the mileage-based tax as a stepping stone to a possible statewide rollout, which the legislature would have to approve.

But in the future, there could be an incentive for drivers to adopt GPS technology to track miles because they could avoid paying state taxes for miles driven beyond their state’s borders.

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