Electric Cars, Hybrids and Roads

Many emails regarding HB 1541 (2018) show a lot of miss-information on this subject.  HB 1541 is an attempt at fairness and providing for the well-being of the NH road system.  This bill would charge an extra registration fee only on registration renewals, for all vehicles based on their EPA MPG rating.  Most emails start off by saying that hybrid and electric vehicle owners are being penalized.  Not true.  In fact, for quite a while, owners have gotten away with paying nothing or far less into the road maintenance system.  Why is this an issue?

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Our current system of keeping infrastructure maintained is based on the paradigm of the more fuel used, the more you pay on fuel taxes.  This applies to the federal road system, separately taxed, and the state road system, also a tax.  As cars become more fuel efficient, less money is available for road maintenance.  This is happening all over the country.  The answer for some is to raise the gas tax.  No problem say those with electric vehicles and hybrids.  Not an issue.

But it IS an issue, at least with the current system.  Last time I looked, electric and hybrid vehicles do not fly.  They use the same roads and bridges.  They are not weightless, in fact, some may weigh more than current gas driven vehicles.  And another fact, they are not totally net-zero pollution in their life cycle (see: How Eco-friendly are Electric Cars?).  So what is the issue?

Its fairness.  All vehicles use the road system and all people benefit from our infrastructure. If you doubt that, see what happens when roads are impassable; what happens to grocery store shelves when shipments are delayed, emergency vehicles responding, visiting family, etc. Who pays for the upkeep?  Right now, only people driving gas driven vehicles and to some extent, those paying tolls.  Hybrid owners get away far cheaper while still using the same roads and electric vehicle owners pay virtually nothing.

Additionally, tolls collected do not pay for all the maintenance needed.

The NH House has worked this issue for some time.  Its current solution is HB 1541 which places certain original fees on hybrids and electric vehicles. These fees apply only to registration renewals. The bill then applies an escalator; one for hybrids and one for electric vehicles, to increase each fee for every $0.01 increase to the road toll made after the bill takes effect.

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The argument that you’ve paid more up front for your hybrid or electric vehicle doesn’t hold.  Or that your protecting the environment.  You’re still using the roads.  Another argument about it being a disincentive to buy these vehicles does not make sense.  How many times have you purchased a vehicle based on its registration fee?  I think many would say they buy what they can afford and what they like.  And besides, many have received subsidies back for buying these energy efficient cars, so you’ve received a huge break on costs.

Is there another way?  Sure.  Tax people on miles driven per year?  I’m sure we all want the government to know how much we drive; and consider the way the data would need to be obtained.  Maybe at every inspection?  I’m sure the inspection stations want the extra headache.  Just a thought only.  Or one suggestion is to use the Volkswagen settlement money.  What happens once its expended?  We need a sustainable system.  Our infrastructure will always need repairs and updates.

So until we come up with a different way to pay for road maintenance, we need a fair way to capture the revenue to keep all of us going.  The bipartisan study committee came up with HB 1541.  It may not be perfect, but what tax is?  I suggest that before one thinks of it as a penalty, consider what you’re enjoying at the courtesy of those with gas-driven vehicles.

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