The roads and bridges of the United States are in a dismal state – and that was before the recent winter storms worsened things.
In fact, the government estimates that more than a quarter of urban roads are in fair or poor condition and that one-third of American bridges need repairs.
To repair potholes and ruined roads, federal, provincial and local governments rely on fuel taxes, which raise more than $ 80 billion a year and fund about three-quarters of what the United States is spending on the construction and maintenance of new roads.
I recently bought an electric car, the Tesla
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Model 3. While he was driving a particularly battered highway to New York, the economist in me began to wonder: what will happen to roads if fewer and fewer cars are running to the essence? Who will pay to repair the streets?
Taxes on fuel 101
Whenever you go to the pump, every gallon of gasoline you buy puts money in a variety of pockets.
About half goes to drillers who extract oil from the earth. A little less than a quarter pays refineries to turn crude oil into gasoline. And about 6% go to distributors.
The remainder, about 20% of each gallon of gasoline, goes to various governments to maintain and improve the United States transportation infrastructure.
At present, the federal government charges 18.4 cents per gallon of gas, which represents 85% to 90% of the Highway Trust Fund, which funds most federal highway spending. and public transport.
State and local governments impose their own taxes, which vary considerably. Combined with the national tax, fuel taxes range from more than 70 cents per gallon in high-tax states like California and Pennsylvania to just over 30 cents in states like the United States. Alaska and Arizona. The difference is one of the main reasons why the price of gasoline changes so much when you cross borders.
Although people often complain about the rising price of their fuels, the real burden of taxes on gasoline has been declining for decades. For example, the federal tax of 18.4 cents was introduced in 1993. The tax should be 73% or 32 cents higher to have the same purchasing power.
In addition, today's vehicles consume less, which means fewer gallons of gas and less tax dollars.
And electric vehicles, of course, do not need fuel, so drivers do not pay a cent in fuel tax.
A crisis in the making
For now, this is not a crisis, because electric vehicles represent only a small part of the US fleet.
A little over one million rechargeable vehicles have been sold since 2012, the year of the launch of the first consumer models. Although impressive, this figure represents only a fraction of the more than 250 million vehicles currently registered and legally usable on American highways.
But sales of electric cars are increasing rapidly, as they can travel a sufficient distance before recharging and prices fall. Dealers sold a record 360,000 electric vehicles last year, up 80% from 2017.
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If sales continue at this fast pace, electric cars will become the norm in a short time. In addition, governments in Europe and China are actively removing fossil fuel consumers for the benefit of their electric counterparts.
In other words, the time will come very soon when the United States and the various states will no longer be able to rely on fuel taxes to repair American roads.
What are the states doing about it
Some states are already anticipating this possibility and are developing solutions.
One is to make electric car owners pay a fixed amount. So far, 17 states have done so, with annual fees ranging from $ 100 to $ 200 per car.
A fixed cost approach poses some problems. For example, revenue goes only to the state coffers, even though the driver also uses external roads and national highways.
Another is that he is regressive. Since fixed costs affect all homeowners in the same way, regardless of their income and driving budget, the poorest consumers feel the most. During a debate in Maine on a $ 250 annual electric vehicle tax bill, opponents noted that the average person currently pays only one-third of these taxes, or $ 82, in fuel.
Oregon is testing another solution. Instead of paying fuel taxes, drivers can volunteer for a program to pay based on mileage rather than the number of gallons consumed. The state installs tracking devices in their cars – electric or conventional – and drivers are reimbursed for the tax on gasoline that they pay at the pump.
The program raises issues of confidentiality and fairness, particularly for rural residents who have few other means of transportation.
Another way forward
I think there is another solution.
At present, automakers and others are deploying extensive networks of charging stations throughout the country. Examples include Tesla Superchargers, Chargepoint, EVgo and
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mobile chargers offered.
They work like gas pumps, but they only provide kilowatts of electricity instead of gallons of fuel. While electric vehicle owners are free to use their own power outlets, those traveling long distances must use these stations. And because charging at home is a tedious task – requiring eight to twenty hours – I think most drivers will choose more and more the convenience and speed of charging stations, which can fill an EV in less than 30 minutes.
Thus, one option could be for governments to associate their taxes with the bill, charging a few extra cents per kilowatt "injected into the tank". fixed amount but a percentage, which makes it less likely to be eroded by inflation over time.
It is in everyone's interest to ensure that funds are available to maintain the country's road. A small percentage of tax on electric vehicle charging stations will help maintain American roads without compromising the chances of electric vehicles becoming a mass product.
Jay L. Zagorsky is a senior lecturer at Boston University. This was first published in The Conversation: "How can electric cars aggravate the ruined roads of the United States?"