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Oregon Road-Use Fee Program Ramps Up for Wider Deployment

OReGO, Oregon’s road-usage charging program, is continuing to evolve with new technology partners that can deliver on a range of fronts like connected vehicle technologies and intelligent transportation systems.

Oregon freeways
Several technology solutions are coming together in Oregon to establish a connected vehicle ecosystem, a more intelligent transportation management system and a road-usage charging platform to generate funding in an age of declining gas tax collections.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) will partner with Cintra for a range of technology resources. NextMove, a digital business arm of Cintra, will serve as the commercial account manager for OReGO, the state’s road-usage charging program.

“With their track record and background, we certainly feel confident that they’ll be able to provide a great option for OReGO participants,” said Scott Boardman, innovative programs policy adviser with OReGO.

The program launched in July 2015, and was the first fully functioning road-usage fee program in the nation. Since launching, “there have been a lot of lessons learned, and policy changes, and program changes to improve the program, test new technology, increase participation, all of those things,” said Boardman.

ODOT has partnered with technology providers like Azuga and ClearRoad to support the initiative, which has moved beyond the “piloting” stage, and is “fully operational,” and for now, voluntary, said Boardman.

In the earlier iterations of OReGO, the state attached a device capable of tracking mileage to the vehicle.

“As we move forward and eventually get to a mandatory program, we envision a future where we probably don’t need those devices anymore,” said Boardman, pointing out that the NextMove technology is capable of managing accounts as low tech as drivers submitting a photo of their odometer to systems that tap right into the in-vehicle telematics, where the car is logging and reporting mileage back to the state’s account managers.

“Through the combination of Cintra's scale and experience as a managed lane operator and delivery of next generation of digital tolling solutions being offered by NextMove, we are well equipped to bring value as a provider for the next phase of the OReGO program,” NextMove CEO Brad Wright said in an email.

Cintra will also support ODOT’s Connected Vehicle Ecosystem (CVE) itself, an outgrowth of the state’s intelligent transportation system (ITS).

“The Connected Vehicle Ecosystem will be developed by the Cintra-led consortium and ODOT through a multiyear, multiphased approach,” Wright explained. “This first phase is a planning and design project: NextMove will lead the team to collaboratively develop the system architecture and design, and develop the project plan to demonstrate and build out the system over several years.”

Oregon has been a leader in developing road-use charging, going back more than 20 years, with the formation of the Road User Fee Task Force, and the realization that the fuel tax would become unsustainable as a funder for road maintenance and construction, in part, due to the increasing efficiency of cars.

“As they explored other methods for raising transportation revenue, road-usage charging was seen as the fairest and most viable way forward,” said Boardman.

The state conducted pilots starting in 2006, and another in 2012, “and found that it was feasible and viable to move forward with this idea of road-usage charging,” he added.

Meanwhile, cars were becoming increasingly fuel efficient, and then several years ago, electric vehicle registrations began ticking up, hastening the need to develop new funding sources that reach beyond the staid gas tax. The state adopted the “enhanced registration surcharge fees” on electric vehicles and high gas mileage vehicles like hybrids. The fee is a sliding scale based on the efficiency level of the vehicle. When EV car owners, as well as other high gas mileage vehicles, enroll in the OReGO program, those enhanced registration fees are waived.

“We view this as an important incentive,” said Boardman, remarking on the carrots the state is dangling in front of the OReGO program.

The enhanced registration fee is flat, regardless of driving behavior, making it “not a very good proxy for road usage,” said Boardman. To date, there are about 2,100 vehicles enrolled in the OReGO program, according to the ODOT website. Participants pay 1.9 cents per mile driven.

“Whereas, when we talk about the OReGO program, as people pay by the mile, they are paying for their direct usage of the road,” he added. “And that’s something we view as a fair and sustainable system, in terms of transportation funding.”

So if drivers choose to enroll in OReGo and stick with it during the duration of the registration period, they’ll have those upfront fees waived, which Boardman said is an important incentive for the adoption of efficient vehicles.

"We don’t want to put too many barriers to that,” said Boardman.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.