At the Snohomish County Parking Garage in downtown Everett, electric vehicles can get a charge. It’s one of several public charging stations in the county. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

At the Snohomish County Parking Garage in downtown Everett, electric vehicles can get a charge. It’s one of several public charging stations in the county. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

License fees rise for hybrid and electric cars in Washington

The $75 per vehicle funds new electric charging stations around the state — which hybrids don’t need.

Car tab fees have become more expensive for hybrid and electric vehicles as voters are set to decide the fate of the annual license-renewal fees this November.

The new $75 fee, called Hybrid Vehicle Transportation Electrification, started landing in mailboxes in October for hybrid car owners, who now must pay for something they don’t use — electric vehicle charging stations.

For electric car owners, the state Department of Licensing began collecting the charge in August. It comes on top of a $150 fee implemented in 2012 to compensate for a loss of gas tax revenue — which pays for road infrastructure — from alternative fuel vehicles.

The $75 fee more than doubled some car tab fees, taking some by surprise.

The Legislature passed the additional payment in a transportation bill at the end of the 2019 session. It aims to transition the state to a zero-emission transportation network by reinstating incentives for buying electric vehicles and expanding charging stations across the state.

Critics of the fee say the state should tax things they want to discourage, not encourage.

“I just strongly believe that they are going about this the wrong way,” said Julie Clark on The Daily Herald’s Facebook page. “Green vehicles should have more incentives and the gas tax should be raised.”

Others believe hybrid drivers need to pay more to offset what is lost in gas tax revenue.

Eventually, the $75 fee will go to pay for roads and bridges, which is where state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, wanted the money to go in the first place. Hobbs chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

As cars are becoming more fuel efficient and people move to hybrid and electric vehicles, gas tax revenue has declined.

There is a lot of concern that electric and hybrid vehicles that drive on the same roads aren’t paying their fair share, Hobbs said.

Any new fee is painful, Hobbs said. “But we still have to maintain what we have in terms of roads and bridges.”

The state is woefully behind in that respect. The Department of Transportation estimated it is facing an annual funding gap of $690 million for preservation and maintenance projects.

But until 2025, the new fee will fund the installation of electric charging stations to bridge gaps in the existing infrastructure, according to the bill.

Hobbs agrees with those who question why hybrid owners are paying from something they won’t use.

“That was part of the compromise, to include hybrids,” he said. “I think we can all agree more electric vehicles is better for the environment in the long run.”

At the end of 2018, there were 42,500 electric vehicles driving around the state. Almost 5,000 of those were in Snohomish County, according to data from the Department of Licensing. The agency estimates the number of hybrids between 95,247 and 142,870.

If activist Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 passes in November, the new $75 fee would remain. It would, however, reduce the $150 charge for electric vehicles to $30, said Rob Wieman a spokesperson for the Department of Licensing.

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