If you’re a regular reader of AllCarsElectric then you’ll know that electric cars are much cheaper to run than gasoline cars once you’ve actually purchased them, but electric cars in Washington state are just about to get a little more expensive to run thanks to a proposed law which has just passed from the state’s Senate into the House.  

SB 5251, first read on January 19 2011, proposes an additional $100 per year vehicle license fee on electric vehicles to help pay for the upkeep of the road infrastructure which to date, electric car owners have not directly contributed towards. 

Traditionally, drivers of gasoline vehicles have paid towards the upkeep of roads through taxes on the gasoline they buy, but since electric cars do not use gasoline the old taxation method doesn’t work. 

Before the launch of all-electric and plug-in electric hybrids like the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt, those electric cars which did exist on the roads of Washington state were free from any usage taxes for the roads.

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

So why tax electric vehicles? 

Fear: a future where electric car sales rise, lowering gasoline consumption and consequentially lowering level of funds available to keep roads in good order. 

The premise is sound and most electric car owners seem more than happy to pay the additional charge.  But is this tax too early for an industry yet to reach a stage of mass adoption, and are alternative taxation systems better? 

One alternative to taxing electric cars at the point of licensing is to introduce pay-as-you-go driving.  In a pay-as-you-go system, a tired system would charge drivers depending on how far they drove and the time of day they drove by utilizing a range of in-car technologies to record the trips made. 

Brabus Tesla Roadster Sport Green Package

Brabus Tesla Roadster Sport Green Package

Examined as part of a report released last week by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), pay-as-you-go systems could allow electric car owners to continue to pay less for their road use compared to gasoline vehicles whilst still benefiting from the lower running costs of electric vehicle ownership. 

While a metered road usage tax may benefit those gasoline and electric car owners who don’t use their cars very much it is unlikely to gain much public support since it would require tracking the movements of each and every car on the road. 

In the meantime, electric car taxes seem the sensible alternative. Washington state may be among the first states to push legislation to enable electric vehicle taxes, but in a post-recession environment of lean public funds  it certainly won’t be the last. 

[The Spokesman Review]