Californians who drive electric-powered cars are getting a free ride when it comes to gas taxes that pay for much of road maintenance costs, but that could end if a national movement to charge owners a fee spreads here.

“Its not here yet, but we anticipate it’s not far away,” said Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug in America, a California-based nonprofit that advocates for electric vehicles.

Legislative efforts to levy a fee on electric vehicles are gaining attention in Washington state, Oregon, Virginia and Arizona, he said.

In Washington, for example, the state Senate  this month approved 31-16  a bill that would require owners of electric vehicles to pay an annual $100 fee.

“We think the purchase of electric vehicles is great for the environment but we also need to maintain our roads, which is why we have the gas tax,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, said in a statement. “Electric vehicles put just as much wear and tear on our roads as gas vehicles. This simply ensures that they contribute their fair share to the upkeep of our roads.”

The fee would apply to vehicles powered solely by electricity and capable of going more than 35 mph. The $100 fee would be dropped if Washington replaced its gas tax with a tax based instead on distance traveled.

Such a road-usage tax has been considered by the Legislature in neighboring Oregon, under which owners of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles would be charged 1.43 cents a mile, the Oregonian newspaper in Portland has reported.

While no legislation on the issue has been introduced yet in California, Friedland said there’s been some talk of imposing a fee on electric vehicles.

With electric car owners paying no gas taxes and hybrid owners paying not much, he said “it makes sense that electric and hybrids pay their fair share” for road maintenance.

He said Plug in America believes a fee based on the wear and tear put on roads, determined by a vehicle’s weight and miles traveled, would be best but only after a substantial number of electric cars, such as 50,000 to 100,000, are on California roads.

Friedland said it’s kind of contradictory for states to consider electric-vehicle fees at the same time that they’re providing tax incentives for people to buy the vehicles.

Sonoma County is joining the push for electric vehicles with a plan to install charging stations in every city in the county that would be available for public use for a fee.

Dave Head, the county government’s fleet manager, said a group of officials is trying to figure out how much to charge because under the law the county can’t make a profit — it can only cover its costs of providing the service.

Other than Santa Rosa, which has its own plan for charging stations, Head said the county plans three charging stations in each of the  other cities, except for Healdsburg and Cloverdale, which each would get two. Officials also are looking to put two out on the coast, with perhaps one at Doran Beach Park and the other on the county’s northern coast. All would be installed by the end of this year, he said.


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  1. Kevin

    There are several logical fallacies being employed with the argument that “Electric vehicles put just as much wear and tear on our roads as gas vehicles.” That’s complete BS. Semi-trucks put most of the wear and tear on the roads, not lightweight EV’s. Under this logic,bicycles and wheelchairs wear out roads too and so must pay extra???
    Furthermore EV’s don’t drip petrochemicals onto the roads, have oil leaks, smog, caty converters, etc. This legislation is merely an effort to apply downward pressure on an emerging environmental technology that has the potential to cut into oil profits.

    February 23rd, 2012 8:10 am

  2. Dave Head

    Interesting article however, it should be noted that although alternative fuel vehicles haven’t been paying their fair share, the bigger issue is that the Federal “Gas Tax” hasn’t been increased since 1993 when vehicles averaged about 14 miles per gallon. Now vehicles average around 30 miles per gallon and new federal CAFE standards require average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Until the federal and state legislatures do something about a “road mainteance fee or tax” our roads will continue to get worse. This is a national problem, not just a local one.

    February 23rd, 2012 8:52 am

  3. Gary

    What’s next a shoe tax for sidewalk maintenance?

    February 23rd, 2012 8:59 am

  4. DMac

    I DON”T drive a hybrid or electric vehicle, but feel If they’re looking for ways to raise road maintenance funds, they should tack a vehicle weight based road maintenance fee to car registrations. This way those who cause the most damage pay the most to maintain the roads. This could be extended to all road users–cyclists may end up paying $5 for all the damage they do, and we could also institute a sidewalk maintenance tax on every pair of shoes sold so pedestrians start paying their fair share too.

    February 23rd, 2012 12:26 pm

  5. Rich Honsa

    It would be only fair that they pay something for their road use and as far as the heavier vehicles ( KEVIN ) they do pay . Any commercial vehicle ( trucks ) from little tiny ones all the way up to Semi’s pay a weight fee & you probably wouldn’t want to pay there yearly renewal $ Kevin . And wheelchairs don’t spend much time on the roads but it sure wouldn’t kill the bicycles to pay there share for bike lanes & signage .

    February 24th, 2012 8:07 am

  6. Everyone Subsidizes Roads

    Actually, the vast majority of expenditures for roads come from property and sales taxes collected at the local level and spent on local roads. Federal and state gas taxes primarily pay for highways, and in recent years even a significant portion of federal funds have come from general revenue rather than the gas tax.

    Everyone, including cyclists and electric vehicle owners, are paying for roads already, even if they don’t use them very often or have a minimal impact on them. To force electric vehicle owners to pay a fee that is not paid by gasoline vehicle owners would be unfair in the opposite direction: it would amount to a subsidy for gasoline vehicle owners. Road costs are not only measured in maintenance: they are also measured in terms of air pollution and global warming, to which electric vehicles contribute far less.

    February 25th, 2012 12:07 am

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