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RUC bill proposed for electric, hybrid cars

RUC bill proposed for electric, hybrid cars

In a renewed effort to pass a proposed a road usage charge (RUC) pilot program for electric vehicles (EV) and hybrids, Senate Transportation Vice Chair Rebecca Saldaña (D-37) has sponsored SB 5444, legislation which includes  provisions intended to incentive the use of those vehicles.

If enacted, the bill would abolish the existing $150 EV fee and the $75 transportation electrification fee by July 2026 and replace it with a per mile fee of $.02 per mile, which would increase to $.025 per mile by 2029. The state Department of Licensing (DOL) would create a voluntary early adoption program enabling EV or hybrid vehicle owners to begin paying the per mile fee earlier than 2026 rather than the existing fees.

One of the many concerns about an RUC has been its potentially intrusive nature. Among the ways drivers participating in the Washington State Transportation Commission’ (WSTC)’s RUC pilot program tracked their mileage was through an app or GPS-tracker. Although it would allow the state to accurately determine when a driver is on public roads and driving inside the state, many have expressed worries about driver privacy and protecting any data collected.

Under SB 5444, WSTC and DOL would have to create an implementation plan that allows for a variety of tracking and reporting methods. The bill stipulates that the revenue must be used for road maintenance and preservation. 

Testifying at the bill’s Feb. 18 public hearing, Saldaña told colleagues that “we need to it take the next level. A reasonable way to get to the next level is to bring online those vehicles that we hope are growing in our state. We want to be able to bring them on, to help us better understand the future of Washington travel and what the impact is on our highway systems.”

SB 5444 cosponsor and Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hobbs (D-44) noted during the public hearing that the state  isn’t spending enough on road maintenance. “All we are trying to do is recover the cost on preservation (and) line up where an electric vehicle is paying as much for road maintenance as a gas vehicle, mile for mile. I know it’s not an exact science, but we’re getting better and better at it. But doing nothing, that isn’t an answer. If there is a way to be more fair about this by doing it by the mile, then we should attempt to do that.”

WSTC Executive Director Reema Griffith spoke in favor of the bill, noting the lower proposed per-mile fee that reflects the “flexibility of RUC to align with legislative policy objectives.”

However, Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-31) cautioned about the idea of an RUC, wondering how farmers driving primarily on their own land would be affected.

Griffith replied that “the way we assessed it and studied it, they would not be taxed on those miles.”

Washington State Association of Counties Managing Director Jane Wall spoke in favor of the overall concept, calling it a “bold move,” though she added that the bill should ensure local government maintains access to some of the new RUC revenue to make up for “the loss we would see from the electric vehicle fee.”

Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly is a member of the WSTC’s RUC Advisory Committee. She said that Issaquah receives $800,000 in gas tax revenue, but the funding needs for roads is roughly $2 million. “RUC is a more equitable and sustainable long-term funding tool.”

No further action is yet scheduled for SB 5444.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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