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Washington state considering annual fee for electric car drivers

Drivers of electric cars may have left the gas pump behind, but there's one expense they may not be able to shake: paying to maintain the roads.

After years of urging residents to buy fuel-efficient cars and giving them tax breaks to do it, Washington state lawmakers are considering a measure to charge them a $100 annual fee -- what would be the nation's first electric car fee.

State lawmakers grappling with a $5 billion deficit are facing declining gas tax revenue, which means less money to maintain or improve roads.

"Electric vehicles put just as much wear and tear on our roads as gas vehicles," said Democratic state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the bill's lead sponsor. "This simply ensures that they contribute their fair share to the upkeep of our roads."

Other states are trying to find solutions to the same problem, as cars become more fuel-efficient and, now, don't use any gas at all.

In Oregon, lawmakers are considering a bill to charge drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles based on the number of miles they drive. In Mississippi, lawmakers briefly considered a similar plan. In Texas, significant opposition scuttled an electric vehicle fee.

Plug In America, a California-based electric car advocacy group, has come out against the proposed flat fee and has urged the state to consider one based on odometer readings that owners would self-report each year.

"Electric vehicle drivers certainly want to pay their fair share," said Jay Friedland, the group's legislative director. "The danger you get into is if you treat electric vehicles in some radically different way than you treat the rest."

Of course, such use-based fees could end up costing drivers more.

Washington's 37.5-cents-per-gallon fuel tax costs the average driver about $200 a year, transportation officials say. That's equivalent to driving roughly 12,000 miles in a vehicle that gets 23 mpg.

That tax is added onto the total gasoline purchase, and is not dependent on the price of gas.

Supporters say the electric vehicle fee would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to support the state's public highway system.

An Oregon bill would charge drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles up to 1.43 cents for each mile they drive, beginning with cars from the 2014 model year. It would cost about $172 per year for a car driven 12,000 miles -- about the same as the gas tax paid for a vehicle that gets 21 mpg.

The measure is scheduled for its next committee vote Monday.