Senator Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) is the primary sponsor of both bills. He says congestion pricing and charging drivers per mile are concerns for his constituents who travel long distances without as many public transit options.
"We might live out of town, but we still have to travel to the city for educational opportunities, medical appointments and everyday business. All of us deserve a voice," he said in a statement.
The bill related to congestion pricing primarily targets Seattle. Last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the city would begin studying congestion pricing on surface streets. She would like to implement some form of it by the end of her first term. Exactly how congestion pricing would work in Seattle remains unknown, however.
Senate Bill 5104 would put a halt to those plans by removing local tolling authority for cities, counties, and port districts.
"Making driving unaffordable would create enormous hardship for working families, especially those of lower incomes," Sheldon said. "It is hard to imagine a tax more regressive than this one. Washington's taxpayers have already paid taxes to build the roads, and they shouldn't have to pay again to use them."
A recent report by transportation advocates based out of San Francisco points out that Seattle may actually be on the right path to congestion pricing because the city is already focused on equity. The city, the report points out, established the Transportation Equity Program in 2017. The program is meant to provide accessible and affordable transportation that support everyone, and supports subsidized transit passes, rebate on car tabs, discounts on car-share, and more.
"Funding from a road pricing project could be used to help maintain or expand these programs, as well as enhance transit services," the report states.
But Seattle isn't the only governing body looking at changing the way we travel. The state is studying a pay-per-mile fee that could replace the gas tax as revenues fall due to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The pilot program is testing how much revenue could be generated and whether it is a viable alternative.
Senate Bill 5255 would prevent the state from implementing a pay-per-mile program in rural areas. That would include counties with a population density of less than 100 people per square mile or a county smaller than 225 square miles. According to the legislation, 30 of the state's counties meet that criteria.
Meanwhile, the pilot program continues and is expected to be complete this year. A report and recommendations are expected sometime in 2020.