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Kansas Wants Volunteers for Pay-By-Mile Program

The state will launch an alternative system where drivers are charged for each mile they drive. That might replace the gas tax, which hasn’t been updated since 2003. As of 2022, just 0.13 percent of the state’s vehicles were hybrid or electric.

For 99 years, Kansas has taxed motorists at the fuel pump to pay for the state's highways and bridges.

But with electric vehicles on the rise and fuel-efficient models replacing their gas-guzzling counterparts, the future of the fuel tax is being called into question.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is recruiting volunteers for a pilot program that will launch in April and test an alternative system where drivers are charged for each mile they drive instead of by the gallon.

"We need to get as far ahead of the game as possible looking at alternative revenue streams that might be able to help fund all of the transportation investments that we have to make across the state," KDOT Policy Director Joel Skelley said.

Kansas hasn't changed its fuel tax rate of 24 cents per gallon on gasoline and $26 per gallon on diesel fuel since 2003. Under a road usage charge (RUC) model, motorists would be charged roughly one cent per mile driven.

But pilot program volunteers won't actually pay that charge. They're just being asked to track their mileage during the three-month study and provide feedback through two surveys. Completing both surveys will earn participants $100.

RUC studies in other states have largely been geared toward electric and hybrid vehicle drivers, but KDOT is encouraging anyone to apply.

"We recognize that gasoline-powered vehicles are still, and likely will be for the near future, the predominant vehicle type in Kansas," Skelley said. As of 2022, hybrid and electric vehicles accounted for just 0.13 percent of registered vehicles in Kansas.

"We're really more focused not so much on the vehicle type as we are the drivers and getting a broad spectrum of users to help us get some feedback."

Participants will be split into four groups for data collection purposes — rural drivers, urban drivers, commercial drivers and agricultural industry workers.

Tracking Mileage

Volunteers will be given four different options for tracking their mileage. If they prefer a manual method, they can enter their starting and ending odometer readings online.

"It's real easy. You only have to do that, but there are challenges to that because you're not able to discern whether the miles that you drove were on your own property — if you're a farmer and you're driving out in the field a lot with your truck and not actually utilizing the road — or if you're driving in another state and not actually using Kansas highways," Skelley said.

Another option is a smartphone app that has participants upload a photo of their odometer each month. But that approach also doesn't allow the state to drop charges for mileage on non-Kansas roads.

Another app volunteers can opt for uses the GPS location on their phone and geofencing technology to record mileage on different types of roads and highways.

"You can actually understand, OK, these are miles that you didn't drive on a state highway so you wouldn't be charged for it," Skelley said.

And for newer vehicles with built-in computer systems, participants can make use of the existing telematics to collect the same data.

Due in part to the different data collection methods, the pilot program will not test congestion pricing models that charge slightly higher rates for driving on certain highways during peak traffic times.

At the end of the study, KDOT will provide a breakdown of how much each participant would have been charged between April and June under an RUC system and an estimate based on the fuel-efficiency of their vehicle of how much they were actually charged in fuel tax.

"Ultimately, we're looking at trying to stay revenue neutral with this. We're not looking at OK, we need to add in additional funding. We just want to see how this measures out comparatively with what they're currently paying and what they could pay under a road use charge revenue mechanism," Skelley said.

Kansas' fuel tax receipts aren't in decline, but revenues have started to plateau in recent years, reaching a high of $466.38 million in 2022 before ticking down to $465.69 million last year. That's up from $460.82 million in 2019.

Skelly said the need for transportation investment won't go down anytime soon.

"We still are seeing the same if not more vehicle miles traveled each year. There are just as many people out there driving if not more, and the wear and tear on the roads doesn't change," he said.

Only Oregon, Utah and Virginia are currently generating RUC revenue, and although a number of other states have implemented pilot programs, most of those are on the East and West coasts.

"Part of this is really to help us get the Midwestern perspective and voice at the table with the national conversation that's happening about how we invest in and pay for roads and bridges in the future," Skelley said.

All active RUC programs are still voluntary. In Oregon and Utah, electric vehicle drivers can either choose to pay additional fees upfront when they register or renew their vehicles, or they can pay by the mile. In Virginia, all vehicles that get 25 miles to the gallon or better require annual fees or participation in the RUC program.

In Kansas, the annual fee for electric vehicle owners is $100 and the fee for hybrid vehicle owners is $50.

Any changes to the transportation investment model would have to be authorized by the Kansas Legislature.

Anyone interested in participating in the pilot program can complete an interest form online at

(c)2024 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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