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Bringing Electric Vehicles Within Reach for All

Posted by Hester Serebrin at Aug 16, 2016 03:50 PM |
We looked into some of the most innovative ways governments are working to make traditionally expensive EVs as affordable as possible to the common driver.

The following is a post from our Rock Star Intern, Daniel Ewnetu.

As global warming concerns reach higher on the agendas of many local and federal governments, many see the electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) market as a solution. According to the US Department of Energy, in areas that use low-polluting sources of energy for generating electricity (such as hydropower), electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids have a lower emission life cycle advantage over gas powered equivalents.

EVs have some downsides as well. With more cars on the road, efficient or not, sprawl is encouraged by requiring the construction of more roads to accommodate the new traffic. If drivers are not paying for gas, they may also be more willing to live further from their job, school, or other services. EVs are also moving the demand for fossil fuels from within the car to exterior sources, while giving the appearance of being completely emission-free. Nonetheless, the push of getting EVs and PHEVs to as many drivers as possible is still important because of their overall reduced consumption of fuels. We at TCC are concerned with the equity of transportation choices and how they can be affordable for everyone, so we looked into some of the most innovative ways governments are working to make traditionally expensive EVs as affordable as possible to the common driver.

Currently, California is at the forefront of the nation in developing programs to expand EV usage amongst low and moderate income drivers. First, California has the largest state tax credit program on top of the already existing federal tax credit program to further incentivize California drivers to purchases EVs over internal combustion vehicles; recently this rebate was cut off to only individuals that earn under $250K and families that earn under $500K.

Then, in 2015, California launched the Plus-Up pilot program to help low and moderate income drivers in disadvantaged communities switch from older, less efficient vehicles to newer fuel efficient hybrids or EVs. The rebate has a 3-tier system for rebates based on incomes between 225-400% of the federal poverty line. The rebates range from up to $12,000 for EVs, $2,000 for for home charging units, and even bus vouchers worth up to $4,500 for those who scrap their dirty cars.

Furthering the state's equitable push for cleaner vehicles on the road, the City of LA secured a $1.6 million dollar grant to create a car-sharing pilot program to serve severely disadvantaged communities. The pilot will purchase 100 vehicles with at least 70 pure EVs with the hopes of preventing the purchase of 1,000 gasoline powered vehicles and the emission of 2,150 tons of CO2 annually. The City’s sustainability plan also calls for significantly more charging stations to be installed in LA -- and over 1,000 public stations have already been installed all over the city.

Following California's cap of $250K and $500K for the states EV incentives, Washington State imposed a cap on the vehicle price instead. Washington currently offers a use and sales tax exemption on cars that run on alternative fuel sources with a value of under $42,500, most notably affecting the Tesla Model S. The sales tax exemption applies to the first $32,000 of the vehicle's purchase price. With this cap on sales value, the incentive goes to people who need it to better afford the premium rather than just give the wealthy more discounts. Washington State also took the equitable path in balancing the gas tax burden. Initially, EV drivers were exempt from paying the gas tax, causing the gas tax burden to fall on people who didn’t or couldn’t buy EVs. To make up for the lost gas tax revenue, the state imposed an annual $100 EV renewal fee in 2013. Then, on July 1st 2016, when the Connecting Washington bill raised fuel taxes to 49.4 cents a gallon, the EV renewal fee was increased to $150.

Internationally, Norway has been the leader in paving the path for mass adoption of EVs. Through a set of incentives introduced in 1990s, Norway has pushed its citizens to drive cleaner. Here are some of the incentives specific to EVs:

  • No purchase/import taxes (1990)

  • Exemption from 25% value added tax on purchase (2001)

  • Low annual road tax (1996)

  • No charges on toll roads or ferries (1997 and 2009)

  • Free municipal parking (1999)

  • Access to bus lanes (2005)

  • Exemption from 25% value added tax on leasing (2015)

Today, Norway has the greatest amount of EV drivers in proportion to the population, with a whopping 22% of market share. Norway has furthered their commitment to the environment by pledging to ban the sales of internal combustion vehicles by 2025. After Germany began falling behind on their goal of reaching 1 million EVs on the road by 2020, they have now also stepped into the forefront of EV adoption, with a new $1.4 Billion commitment for EVs. Half of these funds will go to a ~$4,500 rebate for EVs and ~$3,300 for hybrids, about one-third will go to installing charging stations around the country, and the last large portion will go to purchasing EVs for the government fleet. This incentive is suppose add 400,000 EVs to help reach the country's total goal.

Although EVs and PHEVs are in relatively early stages in the market, resulting in a premium over their equivalent combustion counterparts, other local, state and federal governments have taken great steps to allow for this technology to reach most income levels. With Seattle also being a relatively quick adopter of EVs, in accordance with our mission of providing equitable options for transportation, we hope some of these policies are implemented at our local level to make EVs within everyone's reach.


Daniel has been interning at TCC since the middle of July 2016. His work has included researching and summarizing existing policies, looking into new ones as well as writing blog posts on various topics that affect transportation. Daniel is a rising senior at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, OR. As a member of student council at OES since his freshman year, Daniel is intrigued by the development and implementation of policies and how they affect the people they are suppose to serve. Outside of class, Daniel plays basketball and throws javelin and shot-put for his school.


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