Oregon hopes to get a lot of mileage out of a palm-sized device made by Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS) in Waterloo.

IMS and Sanef ITS of New York have teamed up to equip the northwestern American state with a system that charges and collects a fee based on the distances drivers travel on all of its roads. It is the first program of its kind in North America, and it aims to recover lost gas-tax revenue as consumers shift to electric, hybrid or highly efficient gas-powered vehicles.

“The road usage charge is a much more logical connection between the damage done to the road and the funds needed to repair the road,’’said Ben Miners, Vice-President, Innovation, at IMS. “There is an increasing gap between the gas tax paid and the impact to the road. It is no longer a simple, one-to-one relationship.”

Other jurisdictions are riding Oregon’s bumper: States considering road-usage charges include California, Washington and Florida. Ontario has no immediate plans for a similar program, although it knows about the one in Oregon, a spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Transportation said.

“The real value here is the potential game-changing nature of road-usage charging for all drivers,”Miners said.

Backed by state law and set to roll July 1, the Oregon plan – OreGO – starts with the drivers of 5,000 cars and light trucks. Each auto owner who volunteers for the program gets IMS’s DriveSync vehicle-telematics device. It’s a do-it-yourself plug-in to a port usually found near the base of the steering column.

“Once it is installed, you don’t have to worry about it anymore,”Miners said. “You get in your car, drive, and everything else is taken care of for you. You don’t need to take any action, other than focusing on the road.”

DriveSync collects information about mileage travelled and fuel consumed, and securely relays it to IMS servers via cellular networks.

Sanef ’s technology uses the information to bill drivers at 1.5 cents per mile. Drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles get a credit to offset the gas tax they pay at the pump.

All the revenue goes into building and maintaining Oregon’s road infrastructure. Unlike toll-road systems, which are set up for specific highways, OreGo covers the whole state.

DriveSync continues to work as drivers move into cellular dead zones. It stores the data and sends it when the signal improves.

Headquartered on King Street North in Waterloo, IMS employs more than 100 and is “hiring aggressively,” said Stephanie Lopinski, the company’s Public Relations and Events Specialist. The company formed in 1999 after a member of the family of founder Otman Basir was involved in a crash.

Basir, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, reasoned that driving would be significantly advanced by technology that produced useful information about vehicle and driver performance.

Today, IMS has a range of products that work off the DriveSync platform. It has turned a Fiat 500 into a “connected car”to showcase its technology.

They do such things as record the behind-the-wheel behaviour of inexperienced drivers, and the use and performance of fleet vehicles. The Oregon system is passive, but interactive IMS products enable drivers to use computers and mobile devices to review how well they’ve been driving.

It’s not surprising that Oregon should take the lead on road-usage charges, Miner said. In 1919, it became the first state to charge a gas tax.

It picked IMS for a pilot project on road-usage charges three years ago.

“The gas tax, when first introduced, made a lot of sense,”he said. “Most vehicles consumed around the same amount of gas.

“Today, when there are extreme pressures for automobile manufactures to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles – and there is more consumer interest in adopting fuel-efficient vehicles – using a gas tax to fund the transportation system no longer makes any sense.”

Nor, he added, are governments keen on setting up an elaborate infrastructure to put tolls on every road. Telematics operating through an existing cellular system provides an attractive option, he said.

Oregon “really put together a successful package,”Miners said.

“It’s a package about choice and simplicity. It delivers a sustainable, fair way to ensure there is revenue to maintain the roads – to repair those potholes out there – and make sure that people feel comfortable.”