The California Department of Transportation is recruiting motorists to test ways of reporting how far they drive to study the feasibility of replacing the state gas tax with mileage fees.
Will Kempton, executive director of the California Transportation Commission, told the Los Angeles Times that the gas tax is outdated and no longer capable of meeting future transportation revenue needs.
"The pilot is an excellent opportunity to study road charging and should provide the Legislature with the data it needs to better determine whether and how this idea might work," he said.
According to Caltrans, the 36-cents-a-gallon state gas tax generates only enough revenue to fund $2.3 billion of $8 billion worth of highway repair and maintenance that is needed every year.
The gap has widened because of cars getting better gas mileage, the rise of hybrids and electric vehicles, and because the gas tax has remained unchanged for more than 20 years, officials say.
The pilot program begins this summer and will last nine months. The results will lead to a recommendation by the Transportation Commission to legislators.
Advocates of the approach say pricing can be adjusted based on time of day, whether the miles were city or rural — even the type of vehicle, which suggests how much it damages roads.
California is catching up to Oregon, the nation's leader in usage charging.
On July 1, Oregon launched its third pilot program, asking 5,000 volunteers to pay 1.5 cents per mile they drive. Vehicle mileage is tracked by a device plugged into each car, and gas taxes are refunded.
Other states that have explored charging drivers by the mile include Florida, Illinois, Washington, Nevada and Delaware.