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Why bicyclists and hybrid drivers should pay more taxes

A bicyclist commutes along Grove Street in San Francisco.

As a country, we're paying less in federal fuel taxes, partially because we're commuting in new, more efficient ways, and partially because the gas tax hasn't increased in a while. Which means, in turn, there’s less money for the upkeep of our roads and bridges.

So how do you replace a tax loss like that? With a new tax on hybrids, electric cars and bikes.

"Since about 2001, the amount of vehicle miles traveled per American has gone down for every age group and particularly for Millennials," says Douglas Shinkle, a policy expert at National Conference of State Legislatures. 

He adds that at all types of cars are getting more fuel efficient. That means everyone is paying less in fuel taxes and so states and cities need to find ways to make up for that shortfall.

"Chicago is certainly one of those cities that’s struggling to pay the bills," says Jim Merrell, the campaign manager at the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago, which advocates for bikers and walkers.

A councilwoman in that city recently floated the idea of levying a $25 fee on bikers, in part, to pay for their use of the road. Merrell says in Chicago, fuel taxes pay for less than half the cost of maintaining roads. The rest of the money comes from the general fund. And, he notes, most bikers drive too.

Increasingly, states are also imposing fees on electric cars and hybrids, says Jay Friedland, the legistlative director of Plug In America, which advocates for electric cars. 

"We’ve already seen Virginia and Washington state pass laws, there’s laws under consideration in New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana," he says. 

And come Jan. 1, electric car owners in Colorado will have to pay a fee of $50 a year.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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