The State of Washington is currently considering a new policy that would implement a new annual registration fee of $100 on electric vehicles. This new fee would be in addition to other registration fees currently assessed on all highway vehicles. Is this a fair policy for electric vehicle owners?
Apparently, the Washigton State Senate is concerned about losing revenue from state gas taxes from plug-in vehicles. This preemptive fear could be a result of recent statements from the Federal Highway Trust that allude to losing revenue from plug-in cars.
2011 Nissan LEAF prototypeEnlarge Photo
Interestingly enough, however, the bill (known as SB 6377) takes a rather optimistic perspective towards the role that electric vehicles have as part of the state's transportation system. The authors of the bill state that the new policy is necessary "as the state's fleet changes from motor vehicles powered by traditional sources, such as gasoline and diesel, to those powered by electricity."
In fact, the authors of this bill, who compose the Transportation Committee for the State of Washington, are rather "bullish" on the topic of electric vehicles. In a conversation with Jason Doudt, the Session Intern for State Senator Sheldon, I learned that these policymakers "definitely want state fleets to go electric" and "approve highly of green energy."
So, in an attempt to "create a system where each driver pays for a fair portion of his or her use of the road," legislators have proposed a simple strategy - charge $100 every year. This is a far more simplified approach than a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, as proposed by the U.S. Federal Government or by some European countries. In this way, you avoid complicated GPS tracking systems or other taxes calculated by weight of the vehicle, as has been proposed under a VMT tax.
But is it fair? And, just what kind of electric vehicle is included under this policy? Under this policy, only "vehicles that use propulsion units powered solely by electricity" are charged $100. So, that means that owners of a 2011 Chevy Volt won't have to pay this fee, but owners of the 2011 Nissan Leaf will. This seems rather arbitrary, considering that plug-in hybrid owners can do most of their driving in all-electric mode, but will still be exempt from this fee.
In the near future, it appears that the owners of neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) will be the ones mostly affected by this bill. This is unfortunate, considering that most NEVs drive far less and are lighter in weight than conventional petroleum vehicles, meaning that their impact on Washington's roads is rather minimal.
Washington State Senators should realize that such a policy proposal is rather short-sighted and could potentially hinder the sale of plug-in vehicles in the state. This is obviously the "politically weak" choice for generating revenue for the state transportation system. State gas taxes, as well as federal gas taxes, have remained stagnant for over a decade.
If policymakers are really concerned about generating revenue for roads, they should consider imposing higher taxes on the vehicles that are primarily responsible for their degradation.
What policymakers should also realize is that the state stands to benefit more from plug-in vehicles than they currently recognize. For example, the mass penetration of plug-in vehicles into the market could save money spent on state health care costs for treating respiratory illnesses associated with petroleum emissions. With a little more foresight and knowledge, policymakers can craft policies that provide a win-win situation for both the state and EV drivers.
Shannon Arvizu is a clean-tech strategist and educator at Columbia University. You can find at more at www.misselectric.com.