Electric vehicle drivers in Texas don’t pay at the pump, but they will have to start paying a large annual fee that critics describe as “punitive.”
It will soon become more expensive to drive an electric car in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott signed a law (SB 505) on May 13 that imposes new fees for registering and owning electric vehicles in the state. By law, electric vehicle owners are required to pay $400 when registering their vehicle. Then, for each subsequent year, EV drivers will have to pay an additional $200. Both of these fees come on top of the cost of the standard annual registration renewal fee, which is $50.75 per year for most passenger cars and trucks.
The law excludes scooters, motorcycles and other non-auto electric vehicles, and will come into effect from September 1, 2023.
At least 32 states currently charge special fees for registering electric vehicles, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. These range from $50 in places like Colorado, Hawaii and South Dakota to $274 (starting in 2028) in recently passed Tennessee legislation. Note: Tennessee lawmakers originally proposed a $300 fee, but lowered it in response to opposition.
Like many other states that have imposed electric vehicle tolls, the reasoning behind the new Lone Star State law is that drivers of electric vehicles don’t buy gas. Taxes at the gas pump are the primary way most states, including Texas, raise money to build and maintain roads and other drive-through infrastructure.
Currently, Texas uses a gasoline/diesel fuel tax to fund transportation projects; However, with the increasing use of electric vehicles, fuel tax revenues are decreasing, which reduces our ability to fund road improvements for all drivers,” said the author of the bill, Republican State Sen. Robert Nichols, in comments about the legislation, per local KXAN affiliate NBC News.
But, compared to what gas drivers contribute, electric vehicle fees in Texas seem a little inconclusive. Charging $200 a year and $400 at the start of EV ownership puts the Texas fee schedule at the higher priced end of the policies out there. By comparison, Texas’ gas tax is among the lowest in the country, at just $0.20 a gallon. Only seven states charge less for gasoline than Texas. Of the nation’s ten most populous states, surcharges imposed elsewhere make Texas gas cheaper.
The average Texas driver burned about 55 million BTUs of motor gasoline in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This equals about 440 gallons of gas. At $0.20 per gallon, the standard car owner in Texas pays just $88 a year in gas taxes—much less than the hundreds of electric car drivers who will now toss into the pot. A 2022 Consumer Reports analysis determined that the Texas driver’s gas tax contribution is even lower, at just $71.
The new law says it loud and clear that Texas is “completely behind oil and gas,” Kara Kuckelman, a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, told local ABC News affiliate KVUE. “Electric cars have to pay the gas tax—I just think the tax on conventional cars should be a lot higher than it is. We pay less for gas in this state than almost anyone in the world… Texas is really lagging behind trying to do the thing.” right through the environment. And so, I think that’s embarrassing for all of us.”
There is no doubt that roads and other vehicular infrastructure are very expensive. As easy as it can be to forget that—every time a driver cruises on the asphalt, heeds a traffic light, or reads a highway sign, he’s taking advantage of an expensive system built for his own use and utility. But compared to other forms of transportation in the United States, so does car ownership Already highly supported. So is the burning of fossil fuels.
According to a 2015 analysis from Canadian nonprofit media outlet The Discourse, society pays more than $9 for every $1 a driver pays in commuting: through infrastructure, accident liability, noise, air pollution, and congestion. Buses, cycling and walking consume less public money for the same number of miles traveled. Electric vehicles are also assumed to have a slightly lower overhead cost, as they are quieter and do not directly emit air pollution.
However, in Texas, the tax burden of driving an electric vehicle will far exceed that of a gas-powered vehicle. The new law is “punitive,” according to Consumer Reports. “Consumers shouldn’t be penalized for choosing a cleaner, greener car that saves them money on fuel and maintenance,” CR policy analyst Dylan Jaffe wrote in an April statement. “The fees proposed in this bill would establish an unfair fee scale for electric vehicle owners, and would not provide a viable solution to a long-standing issue of road financing revenue.”
Luke Metzger, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Environment Texas, echoed Consumer Reports’ findings in a statement last month. “The Texas legislature is pouring sugar into the tank of the electric vehicle revolution. These punitive tariffs will make it harder for Texans to afford these clean vehicles that are so critical to reducing air pollution in Texas.”
Electric personal vehicles are not an ideal solution to the persistent problem of petroleum-fueled cars. Swapping every consumer of fuel for an electric vehicle still consumes an extraordinary amount of resources, which are potentially illegitimate. Public investment in mass transit would undoubtedly be a better environmental strategy. But as long as the US remains overwhelmingly auto-dominant and most Americans lack adequate public transportation, the uptake of electric vehicles remains important to lowering the country’s carbon emissions.
Already, the initial costs of buying an electric car are much higher than buying a gas-powered car. A disproportionate tax system adds to this burden, and could discourage people from moving to electric vehicles.
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