Owners of electric cars to pay road use fee

SEATTLE — Owners of electric cars in Washington don’t pay gasoline or gas taxes, but they’re soon going to be hit with a $100 fee to own the battery-operated cars.

A section of Washington state law that takes effect next year will require electric car owners to pay a $100 annual fee for road and highway improvements intended to compensate for the lack of gas taxes they pay.

The law does not apply to hybrid vehicles or to those that don’t exceed 35 mph. About 1,600 cars currently registered in the state would likely be subject to the fee, including the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster and some custom electric vehicles, according to the state licensing department. Hybrid vehicles that use electricity and gasoline, such as the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt, are excluded.

Starting Feb. 1, electric-car owners must pay the fee at the time of their annual vehicle registration renewal. The fee would be in addition to standard vehicle registration fees owed each year.

Supporters of the fee say electric cars are good for the environment but they put the same wear and tear on the state’s roads that gas vehicles do and should pay their share for the road’s upkeep.

Fred Nelson, who lives in Spokane and owns an all-electric Nissan Leaf, said he has mixed feelings about the new law, which passed as part of House Bill 2660. “It’s a little frustrating. I do understand the logic behind it because we don’t pay gas taxes,” he said.

Nelson doesn’t like that the fee is more than double what he has been paying. But on the other hand, he said he has saved thousands of dollars in state sales tax and federal tax credits when he bought his Leaf last year.

“I think it’s wrong. You pay taxes on the electricity, it’s not like they’re getting away for free,” said Joe Lambrix, who lives in Olympia, owns two electric cars, one of which may likely be subject to the fee. “… You’re trying to do something good and they still find a way to get revenue. It’s unfortunate.”

Washington’s gas tax stands at 37.5 cents per gallon, and is the state’s largest source of transportation dollars. It costs the average motorist, driving roughly 12,000 miles in a vehicle that gets 23 mpg, about $200 a year.

Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug In America, a California-based electric car advocacy group, said “$100 isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s not well-balanced policy.”

“EV drivers really want to pay their fair share but it seems ridiculous from a policy standpoint,” Friedland said. The state on the one hand has given out sales tax exemptions to encourage residents to buy more electric vehicles, while charging the fee on the other hand, he said.

The group urges states to consider charging drivers based on the vehicles miles traveled and the weight of the vehicle. He said electric vehicles have the added social benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence of fossil fuels.

Nelson said he bought his electric vehicle in 2011 because he’s a proponent of alternative energy and figured the Leaf was ideal for commuting the five miles between his home and work. “I’ve owned enough of the fossil burning type, I figure I should do something green and clean,” he said.

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