U.S. Legislators Prepare New Federal Highway Bill — Which Could Charge You to Drive an Electric Car

As anyone who has been paying attention will know, the U.S. Federal government has days left to authorise a new Federal Highway Bill before a funding deadline set out by its predecessor cuts all highway aid to states. Supposed to authorise Federal Highway and transportation programs for the next six years, its passage into law is essential to enable states to continue building and maintaining America’s long-forgotten road network.

The new Federal Highway bill could make it easier for states to levy fees against EV owners.

The new Federal Highway bill could make it easier for states to levy fees against EV owners.

As with any bill making its way through the Federal legislative process at the moment however, the new Federal Highway Bill — known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE Act) — is facing lots of hurdles, from amendments that have nothing to do with the original bill through to filibustering from those opposed to its passage or a particular clause contained therein.

With pressure on both houses to pass the bill by the end of Friday, legislators were forced to work through the weekend to try and reach a compromise, battling out details such as a proposed change to the minimum age for commercial truckers through to much-needed improvements to railway safety.

But there’s one part of the DRIVE Act which isn’t getting a lot of attention: a proposed change which could pave the way towards charging electric car owners to drive their cars.

It's only fair that electric car owners pay their way, right?

It’s only fair that electric car owners pay their way, right?

The actual text of the 1,030-page DRIVE Act isn’t for the faint of heart, but as PluginSites (via Autobloggreendetails, provisions within H.R. 22 would make it possible for states to introduce their own taxation system to ensure that everyone contributes towards the upkeep of the roads they use on a daily basis.

A summary from the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee explains that the Drive Act would make it possible to ensure “all users of the roads and bridges pay their fair share with a new federal share program initializing new state controlled user fees.”

The modification to existing legislation is of course designed to counteract some of the challenges facing state transportation budgets today. As cars become more fuel efficient and burn less gasoline, so the revenues ordinarily collected through gasoline tax and sales tax drop, as Americans are visiting the gas station far more infrequently than they once were.

Electric car owners, who don’t visit the gas station at all, therefore pay no tax at the pump to pay for road upkeep.

That drop in revenue results in a drop in funding for state-wide and nationwide road-building programs, argue many legislators.

Both houses have until July 31 to send the DRIVE Act to the President's desk.

Both houses have until July 31 to send the DRIVE Act to the President’s desk.

At this point, we feel it our duty to point out that the notion of gasoline tax being the sole source of funding for road transportation budgets is nothing but a myth. In most cases, public funding for highway upkeep comes from a whole host of other revenue streams, from local and state income taxes through to sales tax and sometimes from toll road fees.

Simultaneously however, most plug-in owners we meet appreciate the challenge facing legislators. Funds from gasoline taxes are on the fall, and that funding shortfall has to be made up somehow.

The DRIVE Act would help address that problem, and give states a wider control over how such usage fees were collected.

With more people switching to electric cars, less gas tax is being collected.

With more people switching to electric cars, less gas tax is being collected.

At the moment, few U.S. states charge electric car drivers a levy specifically for the purposes of helping pay for road upkeep, although it’s worth noting that both Washington State and Oregon — two of the most forward-thinking U.S. states when it comes to the adoption of electric vehicles — are both actively involved in trying to respond to the changing way in which people use their cars.

Back in 2012, Washington State passed a bill which levies an annual $100 surcharge added to the annual vehicle registration fee for electric vehicles as a way to offset any revenue lost from the switch from gasoline to electric.

Oregon meanwhile, now operates a voluntary pilot program designed to charge drivers a flat-fee per mile driven — although we note from our friend Patrick in Portland that the pilot OReGO scheme currently does not accept applications from electric car drivers.

Frustratingly, the DRIVE Act as it stands seems rather vague about how and where funds can be collected from electric car drivers, which we’re sure is enough to cause concern in more conspiratorial drivers worried that if passed, an unfair of taxation will be levied against plug-in owners.

But here at Transport Evolved, we’re hoping that an open, honest discussion with the electric auto industry results in fair and measured sharing of dues. As high-milage electric car drivers ourselves, we’re only too happy to pay our way — as long as its proportionate and reasonable.

...but is the move too soon, too quickly?

…but is the move too soon, too quickly?

After all, given the DRIVE Act in its current form also includes provision for a continued funding of a nationwide electric car charging network, we think it’s only fair to chip in.

With the DRIVE Act due to be voted on in the next few days, we’ll be watching closely to see which amendments and clauses do finally make it onto the books. But in the meantime, we’re curious to know what you think about potential provision to allow states to charge plug-in car and other alternative fuel drivers for their use of the roads.

Is it only fair that plug-in owners pay towards the upkeep of America’s road network, or is it a stealth tax that will put people off switching to a more environmentally responsible form of transport?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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