Caltrans has started signing up potential volunteer motorists for a pilot program that will examine ways to implement a vehicle mileage tax that could replace the state gasoline tax.
Gasoline tax revenues are falling short of what's needed for road repairs and maintenance, in part because the owners of fuel-efficient vehicles don't need to buy as much gasoline.
"For the state highway system alone, our needs to maintain what we have are $8 billion a year, and we only have $2.3 billion," said Mitch Weiss, deputy director of the California Transportation Commission.
The legislature-authorized pilot program is being tested because the gasoline tax can no longer support needed road repairs and maintenance.
A special committee is looking at how to measure mileage and ways to bill motorists for a set time period or for blocks of mileage they drive.
Because of privacy concerns, the pilot program will not use GPS devices to track mileage. But smart phones, trackers and on-board data modules that are already installed in cars will be tested.
Some motorists feel tracking and billing the 25 million drivers and 33 million vehicles registered in California is too big a task.
"I think it's just going to be difficult to police, it's going to be difficult to keep tabs on it and probably the negative is going to outweigh the positive," said motorist James Wallace.
It will be up to lawmakers to authorize the new tax, which is not a sure thing. But the nine-month pilot program will give test systems that might be used to put the tax in place.
Caltrans will eventually select 5,000 motorist for the pilot program, which will not cost participants any money. Beginning in July, their driving habits will be monitored and tracking systems tested.
Those interested in participating can find information on the program's website at CaliforniaRoadChargePilot.com.