Have you heard about Virginia’s Mileage Choice Program? If not, and you drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, you will.
In July of this year (2022), the Commonwealth started offering drivers of low mileage vehicles an alternative to the standard fuel tax legislated in 2020. Those who drive electric cars or have automobiles with MPGs of 25 or greater may have noticed an extra charge as part of their registration fee over the past couple of years. It’s calculated on the assumption everyone drives 11,600 miles per year. Those who may be driving a lot fewer miles were being taxed the same as those with many more. The pitch is, it can save those equally but unfairly taxed some money; and it’s being promoted heavily as a kind-hearted initiative for efficiency vehicle sufferers.
When anyone shows such enthusiasm over what sounds like a revenue loser, I feel the need to ask “Why?”
Spend an hour or so on the website, following links, and reading PR material and you still won’t find anything useful about the details. In fact, the FAQs include answer to “What is it,” “Who operates it,” “How does it work” and “Why.” Seriously, that’s it. All of them under the FAQ website tab. So I did a button click on “enroll now” to try to get any information that’s of much use in assessing the program. Not a good sign. More useless FAQ answers. If the program were that great, FAQs would do more than regurgitate media release verbiage and give detailed instruction on how to find a VIN number (really?).
The website doesn’t include information to explain how the mileage reimbursement is calculated, or what your final savings is likely to be. There is an extensive list, however, of fees that will be levied if you step out of line. This includes Late Annual Odometer Image Upload Fee ($7.50) all the way up to your cost for replacing a device or failing to return one of $95.
The Virginia General Assembly was responding to less revenue coming in from fuel taxes levied at the pumps when they legislated the highway use fee. Estimated additional costs for this to fuel-efficient vehicle owners is $19-$109 annually. It made me wonder how much possible savings there could be for your average parking spot saving car.
How does the Virginia Mileage Choice Program work?
With a minimum deposit of $15 and an agreement to get hooked up to a device that tracks your every movement (mileage traveled out of state is counted to determine what you owe), you’re in. Well, not quite. They have a list on the website of all you’ll need to get ready to register.
Are you ready to jump in right away? I admire your enthusiasm. But you might want to hang in here for another minute as I’ll talk about savings next. But, if you’re all in now, here’s what you should have ready when you go to the website at https://vamileagechoice.com/:
- Name (if you need to look that up, maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car)
- Registration address (ditto)
- Vehicle Identification Number (Whew! Good thing there’s a FAQ on how to find a VIN number)
- Driver’s License Number
- License Plate Number
- Title Number (Really?)
- Credit or Debit Card
What kind of savings are possible?
How much might you save by signing up? That’s not clear. So, I decided to figure how much this usage tax is costing people. My pickup is too much of a gas hog to qualify.
I have a colleague who drives a Kia Soul. I bet that qualified as fuel efficient and I was right. When I asked her about the highway use fee charge, she shared hers was $26 annually. Does it make sense for her to jump through the hoops to register for the program, install a device in her car that is owned and managed by a third party (right, the Commonwealth has delegated this entire program to the private sector), and risk the list of fees to be levied for non-compliance? She doesn’t think so. Neither do I.
What concerns me most about this program is the lack of transparency on a plan that would seem to reduce taxes collected two short years after the legislature felt it necessary to tack on this fee. What’s in it for the Commonwealth? I’ll hazard a guess. All that data being collected has a value. It begs the question, who’s paying who in this arrangement?
For what is likely to be savings that amount to less than the cost of an oil change (which will also be tracked), I’m not buying in. I’ll need some answers before I consider advising anyone to enroll in a program that doesn’t provide basic information about who’s doing the profiting, what the anticipated savings will be, and how all that information collected about you will be used – and by who. At least for now, as the name implies, Virginia’s Mileage Choice Program participation is a choice.