R2T Speaker Profile
Interview with Maureen Bock, Chief Innovation Officer, Oregon DOT
IRF: Oregon is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of Road User Charging in the US. What have been some key milestones in the program since its introduction in 2015?
The first key milestone was the actual launch on July 1, 2015. Since then the OReGO Program has seen a number of changes. These include the legislature’s decision to make it an alternative to a registration surcharge for electric vehicles. This change occurred in 2017 and allowed EV owners to choose to pay by the mile rather than paying a registration surcharge. The legislature continues to refine the program through incremental changes. In 2019, the legislature extended the option to avoid the registration surcharge by opting into OReGO for higher-efficiency vehicles, which are those that get more than 40 MPG. All of these changes came with deadlines for implementation, and my team was able to implement them by the due date with the help of our private sector partners.
IRF: RUC programs such as OReGO are often predicated on their acceptability. What engagement tools (with drivers or the business community) have you found to be most effective?
Public acceptance is key to any tax program so we have spent a lot of time on public engagement. We actually started that before we went live in 2015. We had a consultant do listening tours and focus groups throughout the state. These initial outreach efforts are what lead us to adopt the OReGO brand for the program as well as the logo. We continue outreach efforts by doing focus groups and events. One of the more memorable efforts was a longitudinal focus group where a number of citizens were engaged in a series of activities over several months, using a smart phone app. We were able to get information about how they thought about transportation, what they knew about how it was funded, and did message testing. They were able to ask questions about the program and other alternative funding mechanisms that had been considered. These types of efforts are ongoing.
How do you see this program adapting in the next 5-10 years, for instance taking into account of the growing share of connected vehicles?
Connected vehicles, including autonomous vehicles, will become more ubiquitous. And funds to pay for the enhanced infrastructure needed to maximize their potential for improving safety and mobility will be needed. The increased efficiency of all vehicles is clearly beneficial to reducing greenhouse gas from the transportation sector but is negatively impacting current funding. So developing a seamless road charge system that leverages the data from connected vehicles will continue to evolve. Eventually road charging will include all types of road funding so the user will have one way to pay, whether that is for road usage charges (paying by the mile), tolling (paying for use of a transportation feature like a bridge or road segment) or congestion pricing (paying for contributing to congestion).
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