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Pilot program in California charges drivers a tax per mile

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The claim: The California program would tax drivers 30 cents per mile

An Instagram post from May 30 (direct link, archive link) claims that residents of the country's most populous state will soon have to pay significant fees for driving.

“BREAKING NEWS: California plans to tax its citizens $0.30 per mile driven,” reads a screenshot of a social media post.

The post received over 4,000 likes within a week. Other versions of this claim spread widely on Instagram and Facebook.

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Our rating: False

The initiative in question is a voluntary pilot program, not a nationwide policy. And the pilot program, which charges drivers based on distance driven rather than gas, will not cost anyone anywhere near 30 cents per mile.

Lower gas consumption endangers state transport

As more drivers switch to hybrid and electric vehicles, California is losing gasoline tax revenue that helps support the state's transportation system.

A state pilot program will test taxing drivers based on miles driven rather than gas mileage, but the costs touted in social media posts “are nowhere near the costs we're talking about here,” says Lauren Prehoda, road pricing program manager for the California Department of Transportation.

The six-month pilot, which begins in August, will involve about 800 volunteers who will be randomly divided into two groups. One group will be charged a flat rate of 2.8 cents per mile, what Prehoda calls a “revenue-neutral rate” that raises the same amount as the current gasoline tax. The other group will be taxed based on the fuel efficiency of their vehicle, with the rate decreasing as fuel efficiency increases.

This rate is calculated by dividing the state fuel tax per gallon, which is 59.6 cents per gallon as of July, by the EPA fuel economy rating for a particular vehicle.

Although the law that created the program does not set a maximum limit on fees, Prehoda says the social media posts are somewhat exaggerated.

“I highly doubt it will ever rise to 30 cents per mile,” Prehoda said.

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A Toyota Prius, for example, is one of the most fuel-efficient midsize vehicles, getting just 57 miles per gallon according to the EPA. That would equate to a tax of 1.05 cents per mile.

The EPA ranks the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport sports car as one of the least fuel efficient vehicles, with a fuel consumption of 9 miles per gallon, which is about 6.62 cents per mile and still a long way from 30 cents.

At the end of the six-month study, participants will receive a credit for the gasoline tax they paid at the pump. According to the program's website, electric vehicle drivers will receive a partial credit toward the registration fees. Participants will also be eligible for up to $400 in additional incentives.

After the pilot project is completed in early 2025, the department will prepare and publish a report on its findings, Prehoda said. At that point, lawmakers would need to pass a bill to allow the mileage-based tax model to take effect for all California drivers.

“This is not automatic,” said Prehoda. “Nothing has been decided.”

USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

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