After I wrote an article about spending $0 charging a couple of electric cars over nearly 3 years in Florida, some commenters chimed in with “friendly” (or not so friendly) criticism that I shouldn’t be grubbing off of the rest of society and not paying to charge my electric car, and also that I and other electric car drivers should have to pay extra taxes/fees to cover the costs of building and maintaining roads.
Regarding the former point, it seems some people didn’t get the point as to why there is 100% free charging in my area. I just addressed that in this article. Let’s now look at the second matter.
The crux of the argument is that roads are paid for via gas taxes, and electric car drivers don’t pay their fair share for roads. I knew that gas taxes haven’t covered the cost of roads for decades, making the argument quite faulty, and as I was searching Google for research on that, I realized that we covered this topic several years ago. This talking point was actually a popular one in the Tesla Model S and first-gen Nissan LEAF era. At some point, it was prevalent and annoying enough that some writers addressed it. We wrote about it here and here in 2015. Bloomberg also wrote about it. Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG published a report on the matter.
I’m not sure what is reviving the talking point now. Perhaps it was partly just the theme of my article. However, it surely wasn’t only that, because there have been pushes (some successful) to implement extra taxes on electric cars in various states. No matter the reason, aside from pointing out that gas taxes haven’t been raised for ages and don’t cover the costs of building or maintaining roads, it’s important to bring in the broader context of societal costs.
There’s more than one type of cost associated with automobiles. There’s the cost of building and maintaining roads. There’s also the health costs associated with pollution (cancer, lung disease, heart disease, asthma, etc.). There are the climate costs, noise pollution costs, and national security costs when securing critical resources is required. If we want a true look at who is not paying a fair share of those costs in vehicle taxes and fees, we need to look at all of the costs combined, not just cherry pick one of them. To be honest, I haven’t seen a full accounting of all of those matters together, let alone a suggestion for how best to add taxes and fees onto a vehicle or a driver to try to have everyone pay as close to their fair share as possible. Though, my semi-informed estimate from covering these topics for more than a decade is that gasoline-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs are still heavily subsidized and should pay more in taxes and fees. Not electric cars, trucks, and SUVs.
Sure, anti-EV commenters can bring up road taxes. But then it’s fair game and at least as important to bring up lung cancer, asthma, and heart attacks caused by air pollution from gas cars, as well as the fact that gas taxes haven’t paid for roads in decades.
As Eric Jaffe wrote for Bloomberg in 2015, “It’s perfectly reasonable for American drivers to believe they pay for the roads they use. They’re aware that they pay gas taxes, but those costs are typically concealed in the total price of fuel, and there’s no sign at the pump explaining that U.S. gas taxes are laughably low compared to other countries and haven’t been raised in more than 20 years. Sure enough, when you ask people how much they pay in gas taxes, most either don’t know or think they pay much more than they really do. …
“The use of general taxpayer money to construct and repair roads is enough on its own to shatter the concept that drivers pay their own way. But there’s lots more to the problem—starting with the enormous social costs of driving. Those are the costs that society as a whole pays for car-reliance: the environmental impact of pollution, the health impact of accidents, and the economic impact of productivity lost to traffic, among them. These have been estimated at $3.3 trillion a year.
“Then there are the hidden tax subsidies, to which Dutzik, Weissman, and Baxandall offer the following helpful hypothetical: let’s say one person buys an $80 pair of shoes and another buys $80 worth of gas. You might think both would pay the same sales tax, with that money going toward certain local programs, while the driver would pay an additional gas tax, with that money going toward roads. In 37 states you’d be wrong—that’s how many places have a fuel exemption for sales tax.
“So poor shoe guy ends up paying for the programs that rely on the sales tax and paying for roads that inevitably take from general taxpayer funding (as mentioned above). Meanwhile the driver pays for roads alone—and insufficiently.”