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  • Writer's pictureKerry O'Hare

Electric Vehicles and the Future of Transportation

Years of neglect on our transportation system have made it more difficult to ignore the potholes, deficient bridges and inadequate transit. Increasingly extreme weather has strained our energy grids and threatened our water systems. The pandemic has laid bare the inadequacies and inequities of broadband in many communities as networks have strained to accommodate remote working and learning. It's no wonder that the American Society of Civil Engineers have graded America's infrastructure a C-.

The transportation sector is responsible for nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions making it the largest contributor to climate change. It's clear that the transportation sector will have a significant role to play in reducing greenhouse gases. Encouraging greater use of electric vehicles (EVs) is a policy goal that President Biden intends to pursue in his recently release American Jobs Plan.

The consumer demand for electric vehicles is strong and growing. It is forecasted that EVs will increase from 2.5 % of the market share to 10% nationally by 2025. Vehicle manufacturers have gotten the message with GM CEO Mary Barra stating last Fall that "we wanted to be No. 1 in EVs in North America". GM backed up that statement in January announcing that it aspires to cease making gas powered vehicles by 2035 and was soon joined by Ford announcing that it would be investing $22 million on EVs through 2025. More recently, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would be proposing legislation with the goal to have every car manufactured in America be electric by 2030 and every car on the road be clean by 2040.

Certainly, having more EVs on the roads is good policy. But there is a downside.

More vehicles on the road that don't run on gasoline means fewer dollars flowing to the Highway Trust Fund. For decades, the gas tax has been the primary surface transportation funding source. A fee paid by the users of the system, the revenue collected from the gas tax goes directly into the Highway Trust Fund and can only be used to fund roads, bridges, transit and transportation programs. Aside from not having been increased in nearly 30 years, the gas tax at its current level of 18.4 cents per gallon is no longer sufficient to meet today's transportation needs due to the increased fuel efficiency of vehicles and the rising number of hybrids and EVs on the roads. It's time to move forward with a more sustainable revenue source.

Things worth having are worth paying for and that also applies to an efficient and safe transportation system. I believe that the most promising and viable path forward is to transition away from the gas tax towards a user-pays system based on the number of miles driven. A mileage-based user fee will ensure that drivers of ALL vehicles that use the roads pay their fair share whether or not that vehicle runs on gasoline, an electric battery or a combination of the two. This is not a future fantasy as the technology exists today to make this a reality. A number of states - including Oregon, California and Utah - have been testing the feasibility of replacing the gas tax with a mileage-based user fee and have made great strides.

With a deteriorating transportation system and the threat of climate change all too real - policymakers in Washington must act with a sense of urgency. It's time to stop kicking the can down the proverbial road. EVs are here to stay and their numbers will only grow - as will the wear and tear on our roads and bridges. The future belongs to a mileage-based user fee structure as a fair way to keep the transportation system funded by ALL of its users - not just those who drive gas powered vehicles.

It is possible to help mitigate climate change with greater use of EVs while still providing the revenue necessary to re-build and modernize our nation's transportation infrastructure. It will take Republicans working with Democrats and Congress working with the Administration to make the tough policy decisions to build back better when it comes to America's infrastructure. This is not only achievable - it's necessary. Let's not waste another minute and let's get to work.

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