SANDAG Mulls Per-Mile Tax for Drivers

Drivers in San Diego County could be charged a set price for each mile they drive under a controversial plan being considered by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

SANDAG voted Friday to begin the public comment period for a "road usage charge" of four cents per mile. The board is expected to vote on the proposal Dec. 10.

The proposed tax is part of a $163 billion plan to improve transportation in San Diego County. Among other things, SANDAG hopes to make public transit free for everyone. The proposal includes a 200-mile regional rail network that would cost $43 billion and run at no cost to riders.

"More choices, faster fairer and cleaner systems, breathing better air, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing transportation options that get our residents to point A to point B in the quickest time possible” is the goal, said SANDAG CEO Hassan Ikhrata.

"This is not about penalizing people or taxing people, but this is about re-imagining the future of transportation systems in San Diego, and I strongly believe San Diegans will see it tangible and pay for it like other regions did."

The per-mile charge isn’t the only new fee under consideration. SANDAG’s proposal also includes two half-cent sales taxes, a new MTS tax, and fees for rideshare.

The plan is receiving pushback from residents and local officials. San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, and Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey have publicly opposed the plan.

"This proposal should never see the light of day," said Desmond. "San Diegans already pay some of the highest prices to drive in the country. From the current gas taxes to a vehicle registration tax, San Diegans feel the effects, in their wallets, every day."

The state of California is testing its own road usage charge under SB 339. Critics like Assemblywoman Marie Waldron (R-Escondido) say it would disproportionately impact low-income drivers. Low-income workers tend to live further from their places of employment. The COVID-19 pandemic also shifted many white collar professionals to remote work, while lower-income essential employees in industries like service are still required to show up in person.

Read SANDAG’s Draft 2021 Regional Plan here.