Helping to build the
transportation system of the future

Alternative to Gas Tax? Developing an App to Pilot Road Usage Charge

Washington State Transportation Commission - Smartphone Innovation Challenge

Washington’s gas tax currently funds a large portion of the transportation budget, which pays for maintenance of state highways, ferries, and other infrastructure. As vehicles become increasingly fuel-efficient, gas consumption will continue to decrease; as a result, gas tax revenues will decrease.

One possible alternative is a "Road Usage Charge" (RUC). A RUC is a per-mile charge that drivers would pay for use of roads, rather than paying by the gallon of gas. Regardless of a car’s fuel efficiency, drivers will pay the same tax for driving the same roadway miles.

The Smartphone Innovation Challenge was a sponsored competition designed to improve smartphone approaches for mileage reporting in a road usage charge tax system. The competition asked IT engineers, software developers, and designers to create a prototype solution in the form of an app for mileage reporting using a smartphone. This app should allow drivers to use their own smartphone to record and report mileage, as well as allow drivers to decide whether or when to enable GPS.

With support from CoMotion and the Mobility Innovation Center, the RUC project team assembled and mentored four teams of student researchers across three departments with interest in working on road usage charge smartphone app design, software, and technology.

Capstone teams: 

  • UW Human Centered Design Engineering (HCDE) - two teams
  • UW Electrical Engineering (EE)
  • UW Information School (iSchool)

Download the full report to learn more.

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