Make Electric Vehicles Viable in the Northeast
There’s no law that prohibits the sale of fully electric vehicles (EVs) outside of the West Coast. But there might as well be. The comparative lack of public car chargers in other parts of the country has made this promising technology a non-starter almost anywhere else. Even Tesla’s Model S, with its groundbreaking range of more than 250 miles per charge, is a nerve-wracking choice for consumers in the Northeast. All of the good that electric cars are poised to do is irrelevant until we have the infrastructure to support them.
Why are we focusing, once again, about the Northeast? There’s nothing special about Yankees — everyone one in America deserves the opportunity to drive purely on electrons. But let’s start with the next most obvious place behind California — the population-dense, and relatively affluent (in an aggregated, demographic sense) cluster of states that appears ready to commit to EVs. Whether that means begging Elon Musk to spend more of Tesla’s money on installing chargers on the East Coast, or roping utilities and carmakers into similar investment, we need to banish range anxiety. And state or federally-funded chargers might not be the worst idea, considering the uncertain future of the gas tax.
Around half of all transportation-related infrastructure spending is currently derived from taxing gas and diesel, which generates more than $30B annually. But unless Congress takes action during its next session, the highway trust fund will become insolvent (the deadline is May 31). And along with being politically vulnerable, the tax isn’t compatible with tomorrow’s drivetrains. “The increase in electric vehicles and hybrids is one of the reasons the highway trust fund has reached crisis dimensions,” says ASCE’s Dinges. “When we look to the user fee in the future, it can’t be a gasoline-based tax. We should have a system that’s based on vehicle miles traveled.”
EVs are still a single-digit fraction of the country’s automotive fleet, but a comprehensive network of chargers could be the first step towards periodically collecting and charging according to mileage, rather than the far more distasteful possibility of remotely tracking every vehicle. Municipalities could experiment with taxing each charge, or interfacing with the car’s telematics to obtain data on total distance covered, but not specific routes and locations. It won’t be easy, or painless, to replace the already troubled gas tax. But as with everything related to infrastructure, if we’re going to get it right, better to start right now.
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