The state Division of Motor Vehicles has begun collecting a new $100 annual fee from the owners of all-electric cars, and Nissan Leaf driver Phil Bardsley is fine with that.
“I think it’s fair,” said Bardsley, 61, of Chapel Hill. “Roads need to be maintained, and I use the roads. I think I should be paying to maintain them.”
But he may be in the minority among North Carolina drivers of Leafs, Teslas and other plug-in cars that run entirely on electricity. Among a few dozen who commented last spring when legislators were debating the fee, many cited the environmental benefits of cars that produce zero tailpipe emissions.
They warned that the new fee will discourage more drivers from getting rid of their gas-guzzling, exhaust-belching cars.
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“I still don’t feel like it’s a great idea, because it sends the wrong message,” Sarah Broome of Durham, 48, who also drives a Leaf, said Friday. “It reflects poorly on our air-pollution problems. I think it’s encouraging people to stay away from electric cars and hybrids.”
The House blocked a similar proposal from the Senate last year to charge a $50 fee for hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt, which run on a combination of electricity and gas or diesel fuel. Only 1,600 electric cars are registered statewide, but their numbers are growing.
Many electric car owners have benefited from federal tax credits that reduced the purchase price by as much as $7,500. That’s only fair, said Leaf owner Jules Coco, 62, of Cary. He opposes the new electric car fee.
“These things are very good for the environment,” Coco said. “I’m not contributing to the (cost of) the concrete roadbed, but I’m not contributing to the pollution, either.”
Fuel tax collections are declining because North Carolinians are driving less, their cars are getting more miles out of every gallon, and some drivers are switching to cars that burn no fuel at all.
DMV began adding the new fee for electric cars to its bills for registration renewal fees that were due this month. Projected collections from the fee – $160,000 this year – won’t do much to fill the widening gap between the state’s transportation needs and the revenue collections to pay for them, which is expected to reach $60 billion over the next 30 years.
Legislators and DOT officials will be airing ideas this year for generating more transportation money. But nobody is speaking out with specific new ideas, yet.
“Since they use the road, it seems equitable to have electric cars make some contribution to the DOT fund,” said Sen. Neal Hunt of Raleigh. “Whether we’ll go farther than that, I’m not sure. But we absolutely need to find a way, ultimately, to get some additional revenues.”