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Should EVs Pay to Play?

June 4, 2011 by Rex Vogel · 12 Comments  
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Don’t you just love it when a prediction comes true?

Getting juiced up! (Photo credit: inhabitat.com)

Getting juiced up! (Photo credit: inhabitat.com)

Over three months ago a writer for Politics and Cars mused that if special electric meters are installed specifically for the purpose of charging an electric vehicle (EV), someone in government would figure out how to tax that electricity in the same way gasoline is taxed.

Gasoline taxes are supposed to go for repairs and improvement of roads. The gas tax is simply a user tax. You use the roads. You pay for them.

That’s only fair. Right?

However, if EVs use the roads without paying for their use, that is unfair.

The issue is contentious because gasoline taxes generate $45 billion annually to pay for highway repairs.

Let’s say you live in California, and purchased a Nissan Leaf. The car’s $32,000 bottom line would have taken a huge bite out of your budget, but the feds rewarded you with a $7,500 tax credit and the state kicked in a $5,000 cash payout. At $20,000, the Leaf is now affordable, and the three cents a mile operating costs are good news, too.

But now they want to hit you with a new tax?

The rest of us say it’s not fair that we pay a premium of 18.4 cents per gallon (24.4 cents for diesel) to maintain the nation’s roads, help to eradicate potholes, and keep overpasses from falling down while EV drivers pay nothing.

That’s harsh, you think, being a crusader for clean air. After all, you’re saving the planet by decreasing your carbon footprint.

Nissan Leaf. (Photo credit: nissanusa.com)

Nissan Leaf. (Photo credit: nissanusa.com)

That, in a nutshell, is the debate over whether or not to reform the gas tax as the automobile electrifies.

One way to ensure that EVs pay their fair share is to create an entirely new system that’s not based on what you drive to get there but on how far you drive (pay-per-mile).

I’ll report more on this new pay-per-mile system in my next post.

John Voelcker, senior editor at High Gear Media, explains it this way: “My basic take is that I’m sympathetic to the desire of EV owners not to be taxed, but right now, there’s no mechanism by which EVs are contributing to highway funds. And because people aren’t driving as much, we face a phenomenal shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.”

Voelcker’s research indicates that U.S. gasoline consumption peaked in 2006, when we used 374 million gallons every day. High fuel prices are also cutting into driving, and thus reducing gasoline tax payouts that pay for road repairs.

America’s fuel tax burden isn’t that much of a burden when compared with other countries. The 18.4 cents is phenomenally lower than the very high taxes Europeans pay—as much as half of the $8 or more they pay per gallon. Fuel tax in Canada is also considerably higher than in the United States.

A little known fact is that the fuel tax is only about 35 percent of subsidies to the U.S. road and highway system. The rest is vehicle taxes (20 percent), tolls (less than 5 percent), general fund appropriations (15 percent), borrowing (10 percent), property taxes (5 percent), and miscellaneous taxes and fees (10 percent).

The charging plug on the Smart EV prototype. (Photo credit: Daimler)

The charging plug on the Smart EV prototype. (Photo credit: Daimler)

According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, only 53 percent of the state’s roads are in “good” condition, while the others range from “poor” to “mediocre” to “fair.”  Apparently the United States has no such thing as a “great” road.

It’s not just the federal government, either. States can and will tax electric vehicles, too, and they’ll already finding creative ways to do it. Washington State is considering the nation’s first fee on EVs to help cover wear and tear on the state’s roads.

The Washington State bill would apply a $100 surcharge for EVs during the licensing process, and it’s already passed the state Senate and is awaiting action in the state House. Washington’s 37.5-cents-per-gallon fuel tax costs the average driver about $200 a year, transportation officials say. That’s equivalent to driving roughly 12,000 miles in a vehicle that gets 23 mpg.

Meanwhile, Oregon legislators are working on a bill that would charge drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles up to 1.43 cents for each mile they drive, beginning with cars from the 2014 model year. It would cost about $172 per year for a car driven 12,000 miles—about the same as the gas tax paid for a vehicle that gets 21 mpg.

Pardon me, but aren’t these two states that really like EVs because they’re environmentally friendly.

I’m amazed, though, that California didn’t think of it first!

Worth Pondering…
Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:

If it moves, tax it.

If it keeps moving, regulate it.

And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

—Ronald Reagan

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12 Responses to “Should EVs Pay to Play?”

  1. John M on June 4th, 2011 4:24 pm

    Why should electric cars not pay a road tax They use the road just the same as a gal driven vehicle. Same wirh food or any other thing bought. If you buy it then pay a tax if you don’t the you don’t pay. That’s the only way for it to be fair to all. Pay for what you use.

  2. Larry McKinnon on June 4th, 2011 4:54 pm

    I do not think taxing the electric they use is viable. Think about it, 10 years from now we may have a lot of cars getting 100 mpg, so then we have to figure out how to tax them. The only fair way is a road usage tax. Use the road, you pay for it. It should not be what your fuel economy is, it should be for road usage.

  3. Donald Warne on June 4th, 2011 5:10 pm

    Welcome to the real world. We truck drivers have been paying a Federal Highway Use Tax for years. Then if you are fortunate enough to live in a state like NY they get you as well. My complaint is that too much of the money goes to administration and other wastes, rather than actual repairs.

  4. hoppe on June 4th, 2011 6:06 pm

    I’ve often wondered when they would start the use tax.

    Bicycles use the road, but here in Colorado they not only don’t pay, they don’t even have licenses. Now some of them act like they own the road, riding 2 and 3 abreast, and obstructing traffic.

    So no, I’m not surprised.

  5. bilmo on June 4th, 2011 7:37 pm

    I have been writing to congressmen and to editors for more than five years regarding the need to develop a fair “road tax” for EVs. Many folks don’t understand that an EV does pollute; how much depends upon the electricity generation source. Diesel fuel users pay the most for their fuel. At least truckers are making a profit using the highways.

  6. Sheila Allison on June 5th, 2011 5:11 am

    I parked the truck because I can’t afford to drive it to work. Over $500 a month to drive it. Now I am on a motorcycle. Can you imagine all the 60 and older grannies ridding to save their money for food. In 5 months the bike will pay for itself. and they will get less tax from me. Give them the idea of road use tax and they will add that to the top of everything.

  7. G Shea on June 5th, 2011 5:13 am

    No new use or road taxes until the corruption and waste are reduced. Let electric cars become more main stream before taxing them. Encourage the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles before hitting them with taxes. I live in Washington and if our governor has her way EVERYTHING will be taxed…

  8. john on June 5th, 2011 5:35 am

    gas tax to repair roads what a joke drive on any interstate in the good old US of A and you will know in an instant that they don’t repair roads

  9. hoppe on June 5th, 2011 6:16 am

    Ya just gotta love the corruption?

    Give tax breaks to the rich and increase the taxes on the middle.

    WE GOTTA KEEP AT LEAST ONE STUPID WAR FUNDED?

    Why do I care if the Muslims have a democracy? Maybe we can get the Military to use solar powered, electric vehicles. Stealthy, yes. And no fuel supply problems. Oh heck yes, and now we don’t need the oil quite so much.

  10. vet66 on June 5th, 2011 7:09 am

    Electric cars (EV’s) are currently not popular with Americans who live outside the urban areas. I have seen the various oversized golf carts on interstates and wonder how safe they are in that situation. As for gas taxes. until I am convinced otherwise, they are dumped into the general fund and allocated from their to whatever pork project that will get a congressman/woman reelected.

    As for the EV itself, how long do the batteries last and how much are replacements? What happens to the old batteries? Do the costs outweigh the government subsidies which arguably are payback to the unions for their vote? What is the carbon footprint related to production of these vehicles? Can they be towed behind an RV? If the answer is in the affirmative, are they being recharged during the towing process?

    Keep the politics out of our fuel tanks and mileage. If the politicians start taxing us by the mile driven plus gas/diesel taxes we need to be proactive in stopping that plan before it starts.

  11. Geoffrey Pruett on June 5th, 2011 1:53 pm

    Shades of Jolly Old (England) in the fifties, after a succesful advertising event to replace coal burning grates with an “Electric Fire” came a cold snap and a chiding by same agency about using excess electricity and causing brown outs. Not a suprise as governments are usually spending before planning.

  12. Geoffrey Pruett on June 5th, 2011 2:07 pm

    Gas taxes have been too low since the early 60’s and our roads and bridges show the result. Some countries aready charge by the mile for vehicle tags which sounds promising until you understand that collecting would require a new government agency. Todays vehicles deliver more ton miles per gallon and weigh more due to required idiot proofing so even if taxes were indexed to inflation collections would be in the hole. We bought a V6 instead of a hybrid as the only payback for spending a lot more is gas mileage. At 5000 miles per year average payback does not compute. Then the zinger, electric only improves the air where power is from Hydro or Nuke, all other sources push improvements way out into the future.

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