(BIVN) – A three-year project to investigate the use of a per-mile fee to fund the maintenance of Hawaiʻi roads and bridges, instead of the current system where drivers pay at the pump, was recently presented to residents in Waimea.
On April 10, the public heard about the Hawaii Road Usage Charge (or RUC) Demonstration during a meeting held at the Waimea School STEAM Center.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation is trying to get feedback on research about the RUC that could replace the state fuel tax. Meetings have already been held across the islands, with one more scheduled for Hilo on May 9.
“HDOT is researching the feasibility of the road usage charge as a replacement of the current state fuel tax. It would not be an additional tax,” said Deputy Director Ed Sniffen, Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation Highways Division, in a recent media release. “The current fuel tax system is becoming less and less fair as those who own older, less efficient cars pay more per mile than those able to purchase newer high efficiency or alternative fuel vehicles. Under a road usage charge system all vehicles would pay the same amount per mile driven.”
The DOT says Hawaiʻi is one of a dozen states, including California and Oregon, researching whether the switch to a pay-per-mile-driven charge is feasible and how it might be implemented. Officials said:
Hawaii’s study is looking at a RUC system as a possible replacement to the current 16 cents per gallon state fuel tax. Important factors such as sustainability, fairness, information and privacy protection, and other topics will be addressed. Based on early feedback received at public meetings, the HDOT project team will also be examining how RUC could exempt off-road driving, address collection and enforcement concerns, impacts on long-distance commuters, and more.
There were plenty of skeptics in the Waimea audience on April 10. When the public had a chance to ask questions, they expressed concerns that a RUC approach reduces the incentives for motorists to buy electric vehicles, contrary to the state’s goal to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
Some in attendance even questioned if the state will continue to see the rise in electric vehicle purchases, which a RUC would need in order to be justified. That concern was partially bolstered by a recent Ulupono Initiative survey data release that “indicates that the current limited charging infrastructure is holding back the cultural transition away from internal combustion engines and hampering progress toward the state’s renewable energy goals.” The Ulupono Initiative concluded there are simply not enough public charging stations throughout the state for electric vehicles.
Many residents at the Waimea meeting wanted to shift the focus of the conversation towards road maintenance, and ways in which they say the state can do a more efficient job.