10 states are now charging fees to electric vehicle owners, ranging from $43 to $300

Ford charging port on electric car
Promo image Ford

Incentives matter. That's a basic tenet of economics, and while people do all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons, on average, if you make something more expensive, fewer people will buy, and if you make it cheaper, more people will. So it's a bit puzzling that 10 U.S. states are already charging fees to electric vehicle owners, basically taxing EV ownership.

The justification for this makes sense at first glance. As the Department of Energy (DOE) writes: "The maintenance of our highways has traditionally been funded from a combination of Federal and state taxes collected at the pump from the sale of motor fuels. Because electric vehicles (EVs) do not refuel at pumps that collect state and Federal fuel taxes, they do not contribute to the upkeep of the highways. This has caused many states to rethink how funds are collected to support the highway infrastructure."

But this doesn't make sense at this stage in the growth of electric vehicles. While EVs are not a new technology (they were actually invented before gasoline cars), the modern crop of EVs is still very young and immature, and they need encouragement to reach the next phase of their evolution as fast as possible (lower prices, longer driving ranges, more mainstream appeal). But the only way to get there is to get through the awkward adolescent phase, and incentives can either help us push through that as fast as possible, or slow us down and lengthen the domination of fossil fuels for transportation.

There are so few EVs on the roads compared to gasoline and diesel vehicles that these fees won't raise any significant money for infrastructure. Raising fossil fuel taxes by even 1 cent per gallon would certainly raise a lot more money, and actually be a tax on something that we're trying to discourage. Taxing EVs won't matter to infrastructure, but for individual would-be EV buyers, an extra fee might make them think twice, especially those who are on the fence.

I'm not saying that such fees will never make sense, but I think at this point it's premature.

Electric vehicle fees in 10 statesDOE/Public Domain

You can see the breakdown of the yearly fees above (not that the same state can be on the chart more than once if they impose different fees for different categories of vehicles). The DOE writes:

Eleven states currently assess fees on electric vehicle owners in lieu of traditional fuel taxes. Georgia has the highest annual fee of the states that have currently enacted fees for electric vehicles. Commercial and noncommercial plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) have different fees in Georgia. Idaho is the only state that has a fee for conventional hybrid electric vehicles (without a plug). Washington State has enacted new fees that will become effective July 1, 2016.

One last point: If the goal is to be fair and help pay for infrastructure, charging extra fees to heavy vehicles would make more sense. The damage caused to roads and bridges isn't linear with vehicle weight. A large, fully loaded semi truck might do thousands of times more damage than a regular car, yet large truck owners are not paying an equivalent portion of the costs to fix things up...

What do you think?

used nissan leaf photoSami Grover/CC BY 2.0


Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles


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