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To Tax or Not to Tax, That Is the Question?

Gasoline excise taxes are extortion and pay-by-the-miles fees open the door to limiting your freedom

Byline: Bill Moore

There appears to be the mis-presumption abroad that if you buy an electric car, you don't buy gasoline and therefore don't pay state and federal excise taxes on the gasoline you're not burning, and therefore you're not paying your fair share of maintaining the roads on which you drive.

Maybe in some states that might be true...or now. However, it's not where I live in Nebraska. When I bought my fresh-off-its-California lease 2016 Fiat 500e (23K miles) in 2019 and shipped from there to here, the tax folks at the DVM promptly added an extra $75 fee on top of the usual license and property taxes. The fee is something called an "Alternative Vehicle" tax to help cover the money I wouldn't be spending on gasoline at the pump and therefore paying my share into the road maintenance fund. Due to COVID and working from home, I have put only 10,000 miles on the car, yet paid $300 in Alternative Vehicle taxes, besides the state's property tax on motor vehicles.

Doing the math, that means I have paid 7X in road taxes than I would have if I drove a car that burned gasoline and got 25 miles per gallon (2500 miles per yr / 25 miles per gallon = 100 gallons X $0.431 federal + state excise tax = $43.10). So, yes Virginia, I am paying my fair share and then some. Which brings me to this confusing melange of illogic from the conservative (or is it libertarian?) Spectator [https://spectator.org/withholding-tax-pay-by-mile/] by Erik Peters. I am not sure if he's being sarcastic or serious.

The article is entitled, "The Next Big Government Scheme: Taxing You for Every Mile You Drive." It's a headline you'd expect from the "Big Government is Bad" crowd. What confuses me is the Onion-like subtitle: "It's an underhanded way to decrease your carbon footprint." Huh?

He starts off with "One of the biggest economic incentives to drive a hybrid (or a full-boogie electric car) is not having to buy gas and - by dint of that - not having to pay the extortionate tax applied to the purchase of gas. These total around 50 cents in taxes applied to every gallon of gas. Proportionately, gas taxes are just about the most regressive taxes after those applied to cigarettes, with the difference being that no one has to smoke while almost everyone has to drive."

Extortionate? $43 versus $300: that's extortionate, in my book. Well, not really.

He continues, "But the government (all those highway safety engineers, paving contractors, maintenance crews.. you know..."the government!") doesn't like it when people evade paying, such as by driving a car that uses very little or even no gas at all. Notwithstanding that the government is pushing for such cars."

BTW, a fair number of conservatives don't like it either or why would they assume (erroneously) that I am not paying "my fair share"?

"The solution? Make those who bought them pay by the miles they drive rather than by the gallons they no longer buy."

"Virginia is the latest state to initiate such a program - purely voluntary, of course...for the moment. The Mileage Choice Program, as it is styled, offers participants the option to "save money" - the carrot - by not having to pay the annual highway user fee (which is of course a tax) that owners of hybrids and electric cars are otherwise required to pay to make up for the gas taxes they thought they would be able to avoid paying and thereby actually save money."

He's heard about Nebraska, apparently. He opines "But the mileage tax is subtler. It is easier to increase without triggering an uproar, very much in the same way that streaming TV services add a buck or three to your monthly subscription and most people don't even notice it."

Wrapping up his thesis, "It will be a rude awakening for hybrid and EV drivers - who thought they would be "saving money" by buying cars that use less or even no gas. Especially when the mileage tax is upped to provide the revenue to finance the "investment" in "infrastructure" necessary to keep those hybrids and EVs rolling, namely by the additional generating capacity that will be needed to offset the additional use of that capacity by hybrids (the plug-in ones) and EVs."

He may have missed this memo: [https://insideclimatenews.org/news/12112015/fossil-fuel-subsidies-top-450-billion-annually-study-says/]

Okay, where to start?

Is he arguing that we simply cease maintaining our transportation infrastructure, which we've pretty successfully done already like the 220,000 bridges we've neglected for decades? That's 36% of the bridges in the country. Placed end-to-end, they equal 6,000 miles. While the ARTBA [https://www.artba.org/2021/03/23/over-220000-u-s-bridges-need-repair-latest-analysis-of-federal-data-finds/] has a clearly vested interest, they estimate that 45,000 bridges are "structurally deficient" (SD). Of these, "nearly 11,200 are in 'serious' or worse condition. This includes 1,668 that are in 'critical' condition, 440 that are in 'imminent' failure, and 970 that are in 'failed' condition and are out of service. The states with the most serious or worse bridge conditions are Iowa (1,762 bridges), Oklahoma (922), Illinois (764), Pennsylvania (728), Missouri (700), and Louisiana (638).

Erik might not cross one or more of those bridges in his work day, but Americans cross them 171 million times a day, most of them in gasoline powered cars. Thankfully more of them are electric or fuel-efficient hybrids, the owners of which may, like me, be paying seven times our fair share.

Now, while he offers no recommendations on whether or not to repair all those "SD" bridges, he does speculate that the government will soon assign every American a carbon footprint and if you exceed that limit when driving your electric car, it can throw a supposedly "mandated" "kill switch" [https://jalopnik.com/the-government-is-not-going-to-force-your-car-to-have-a-1848398873] and prevent you from going where you want, when you want. BIG GOVERNMENT as its most sinister!

"When the government decides that more than X miles per week - or day - is "excessive" or "contributing to climate change" - it will be an easy thing to use that kill switch, triggered by the bug in your car letting the (dystopian) DMV know their "customer" has driven too far this week.

He continues..."If it sounds crazy, remember the craziness of the times."

So...EV drivers don't pay that "extortionist" gasoline tax nor should government implement miles-driven fees. Okay, so what's the solution? Paranoia, apparently.

"Understand the common denominator, which isn't that you are a 'customer'."

"Except in the sense that you are to pay whatever they say - and do whatever you're told."

Is this what passes for reasoned dissent at the Spectator? God spare us!

First Published: 2022-07-22

Cycling Is the Slow Death of the Planet?

Personal commentary on a recent posting by the Urban Cycling Institute

Byline: Bill Moore

I make no apologies: I own four... yes, four electric-assist bicycles. I try to ride, when the weather permits, several times a week. My route usually takes me 5+ miles to a nearby NRD flood control dam and lake with a 3-mile paved walk/cycling path around it. The lake is the home of dozens of waterfowl: Canadian geese, mallards, heron, coots, even the rare Bald Eagle. This time of year there are numerous dragon flies, the occasional tiny snake, lots of rabbits, and once even a doe and her fawn crossed my path.

So, how did I come by four e-bikes: persistance mainly, but also I hate to part with bits of ebike history. Two of them were barter bikes with manufacturers over the course of 15 years: Wavecrest Labs and Falco, the latter my ride of choice. One I bought as a single speed and had converted to an Italian engineered All-in-One rear hub drive - I dubbed it the K-15 and launched an unsuccessful crowd-funding campaign. It was briefly the world's lightest e-bike at just under 15kg. The fourth was one of six I bought for our Quikbyke startup in 2015-2016 (more photos on Flickr). Disappointingly, the project bogged down with investor dissertions and death, Florida zoning rules, Covid and a few Gulf hurricanes. I kept one of the bikes here to testing and demonstration purposes.

I suppose I was ahead of my time (again!). Now ebike sales are booming, ironically, in part, by the same pandemic that nearly KO'd the tourism/cruise ship business upon which our innovative solar-charged, e-bike rental popup shop business model had been built. Now ebikes, cargo models, in particular, are being touted as suitable replacements for the family car, urban parcel delivery, even "eating the lunch" of Ford's F-150 pickup. The US Postal Service and UPS have started testing e-bikes, technically quadracycles, as ways to reduce the physical and carbon footprints. ADDENDUM: Now we can include Amazon in that list.

Now we even have Deloitte singing the praises of the electric-assist bicycle. Here are two recent headlines:

So with all this feverish activity around the adoption and adaption of electric bicycles, I found it somewhat amusing and concerning to read this Facebook post my wife just shared with me this afternoon. Whoever this banker is, he clearly hasn't been a bike lately, or his value system is so warped by the current millieu of GDP and infinite economic growth that he can't see how myopic his view is, one where even a war every so often is good for the economy, though I suspect the author of this post was being somewhat fascetious and more likely than not spinning a yarn.

"Bicycle is the slow death of the planet."

A banker made the economists think this when he said:

"A cyclist is a disaster for the country's economy: he doesn't buy cars and doesn't borrow money to buy. He don't pay insurance policies. Don't buy fuel, don't pay to have the car serviced, and no repairs needed. He doesn't use paid parking. Doesn't cause any major accidents. No need for multi-lane highways. He is not getting obese.

Healthy people are not necessary or useful to the economy. They are not buying the medicine. They dont go to hospitals or doctors.
They add nothing to the country's GDP.

"On the contrary, each new McDonald's store creates at least 30 jobs - actually 10 cardiologists, 10 dentists, 10 dietitians and nutritionists - obviously as well as the people who work in the store itself."

Choose wisely: a bike or a McDonald's? It's something to think about.
~ Emeric Sillo

PS: walking is even worse. Pedestrians don''t even buy a bicycle!

So, what do you think?

First Published: 2022-07-05

The Electric Cars of the Papillion Days Parade

A half dozen privately owned electric cars joined the 75th anniversary parade down Washington Street

Byline: Bill Moore

Papillion, Nebraska is a wonderful small town south of Omaha, itself famous for steaks, the College World Series, and billionaire Warren Buffett. Our community of some 20,000 residents last year celebrated its 150th anniversary. This past weekend saw the 75th anniversary of its annual Papillion Days festival, which includes carnival rides, food stands, fireworks and the annual parade down Washington Street, its main street. We've lived here now for over 40 years and embarrassingly, this is the first time I've actually taken a semi-active role in the parade.

I and five other local families volunteered to drive our electric cars as part of the approximately one mile-long parade route. The Nebraska Chapter of the Sierra Club sponsored us, providing signage for our cars that included the following: Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf and my Fiat 500e. As with any parade, we spent more time standing around and chatting then rolling slowly at a walking pace in the parade. We talked with fellow EV owners, sharing experiences and chatted with other parade participants: in my case, the local police department volunteer chaplin and a couple young lady equestrians. Meta (formerly Facebook), which has a nearby data center) is sponsoring a local production of the musical 'Newsies' so they made a boisterous but melodic contribution behind us. Ahead of us, a local hair salon had a salon chair sitting in the bed of their 4X4 pickup with a female head -- yes, just a head -- creepily staring out from in the seat. The DARE police car - a '57 Chevy - followed up. Of course, there were lots and lots of parade participants in front and behind us.

A bit of personal history: for the first six years or so in the early 80s, my little family (wife and two kids) lived one block from the starting point of the parade, and for the next 20-plus years a few blocks further north. I am sure my kids, when they were teenagers, attended the festival, but it just wasn't my "thing." So, I have to admit being pleasantly surprised to see the number of families that turned out to line the parade route, easily in the thousands: many having set up their shade canopies hours in advance. They were needed! The digital temperature readout on the Fiat's instrument cluster read 105F / 40.5C. I noticed most of the other EVs ahead of me - the Fiat rode 'drag' in the electric car procession - had their AC running and their windows closed. My car has a sunroof so I had it open, as well as both side windows: all the better to wave as the crowd, many of whom seemed to appreciate the gesture; cheerfully smiling and waving back. By the time I got home, my shirt and shorts were soaked in sweat.

At the approximate location of where the original Union Pacific railroad tracks cross Washington Street (also known as Omaha's 84th St), the Papillion Fire Department flew a giant American flag mounted high above the ground between their two ladder trucks. The open sunroof afforded me the opportunity to snap a passing photo from underneath.

Papillion Days Volunteer EV Drivers

Since all the cars in our entourage sported EV-relevant signage, I could not but help wonder if the young families, teenagers, and boomer grandparents seated on the curb or in their folding camp chairs understood or recognized the significance of the red, white, blue, black, and gray automobiles gliding silently by, tailpipe-less, mean to their future. Most them likely drove to the event in gasoline-fueled vehicles, SUVs and pickups, I imagine. That week they probably laid out as much as a $100 or more to fill their tanks, charging it to their credit card. In the case of our cluster of a half dozen electric cars, we paid a fraction of that and it will appear on our local electricity bill, assuming we all charged at home. I certainly did. And because my local public utility (OPPD) is part of the Southwest Power Pool, a surprising percentage of our electricity is being generated by the wind. As I write this at noon, 38.4 % of the pool's power is being produced by regional wind farms. Coal is adding 32%. Natural gas is 19%. Nuclear is 4.58% Hydroelectricity is 3%. Solar, sadly, has a long way to go here: it is contributing less than one-half a percent. (Source: https://spp.org).

South across Papillion Creek, the parade route passes a local gasoline station - one where my teenage son once worked. As I glanced over at it, I reflected how far I have come personally since those days in the late 80s when we owned a pair of old gas guzzlers and helped my son buy his first car: a Plymouth 'Cuda.' I worked for an airline and mowed my huge Sixth Street lawn with a gas mower. The world of EVs (and EV World) would be another decade away and my first electric car even longer, acquiring the 2016 Fiat only in 2019. So, just as it took me decades to come to the position, philosophically and economically that I am now, it may take some time for those families along the parade route to reach a similar point. The trouble is, though, we may not have that kind of time as this week's heat wave is impressing on us all. Then too, there were no EVs to put in a parade back then, not really. Now there are and more coming with each passing model year.

As our little group of electric cars gathered at the rendezvous point in the parking lot of the local Best Buy to collect the signage, there was already an EV parked in the lot and another drove through while I was taking the group photo below. In fact, I am starting to see lots more EVs: Teslas, Fords, VWs, Hyundais on our local streets: a really promising sign.

Papillion Days Volunteer EV Drivers

So, here's hoping that our little caravan of electric cars will help others begin to rethink their personal transportation choices. We're planning to do even more of these events locally. We're even talking about B and C teams; and we are in early discussions with our local AAA baseball team, the Stormchasers, to hold what we're calling a 'Baseball, Hotdogs and EVs' ride and drive exhibition the last evening of the team's regular at-home game schedule.

First Published: 2022-06-20

A Not-so-Weird EV Out of the Pages to China's "Sears Roebuck Catalog"

You can now order replica Ford Model Ts for $7500 or less...though performance won't revival its inspiration

Byline: Bill Moore

The sprawling Alibaba e-commerce website is a panoply of all sorts of wondrous (and bizarre) goods manufactured in China. You pretty well name it: Alibaba likely offers it, often at surprisingly cheap prices, at least before you factor in shipping, In fact, there's a web author who regularly features the "weird" electric vehicles he/she finds on the electronic version of China's "Sears Roebuck Catalog." Most are either two/three wheeled EVs with the occasional four-wheeled model, some strictly low-speed golf kart types, others higher performing models that may, or may not meet US federal safety standards.

In my daily scouring of the ?Net for EV news, I happen to come across one not-to-weird EV a day ago that captured my attention, in part because I have long argue that there could be a market for a modern version of the 1914 Detroit Electric motorcar like that owned by Clara Ford, Henry's wife. (Yes, she like a lot of society women of the time preferred electric automobiles to the gasoline and steam models of the period, even one manufactured by her husband). Below is Clara's car, preserved at Ford's Dearborn museum.


Curiously, the model in the Alibaba catalog is a replica of Ford's 1908 Model T, priced at $7,500USD. Equally interesting, the company, Yatian, isn't the only one offering similar period Ford Model T replicas. I noticed at least one, possibly two others on the website. An external link into the site that I followed was a blogger on Youtube who said he'd thought this would be a perfect vehicle for giving tourists rides similar, but more humanly, than horse-drawn carriages. Actually, someone tried that some 8 years ago [https://www.theverge.com/2014/4/17/5625050/the-beautiful-electric-carriage-tearing-new-york-city-apart] I remember interviewing them for EVWorld.com.

Similarly, there was a venture, if memory serves, out of Arizona that converted a vintage Model T into an electrically-propelled ice-cream truck, so this is hardly a new idea.

Then again, if I were looking for a side gig with relatively low capital investment, I might consider this, though to meet US safety standards for a low-speed EV, there would have to be some upgrades including installation of seat belts and windshield wipers. The website says the "Model T Mini Car" has a top speed of 30km/hr (18 mph) and range of 100 km (62 mi).


From a historical perspective, Henry Ford actually toyed with the idea of offering an electric version of the Model T (might it have been dubbed the original Model E?) around the time Clara was puttering around Dearborn in her electric runabout. Here's a photo of it. He even partnered with Thomas Edison to solve the ever-looming battery question, which Edison never truly solved though he demonstrated the nickel-iron battery could propel an automobile a 1000 miles: just not on a single charge.


As most China observers have noted, they are pretty good at copying other people's products -- and this version of the Model T is clearly one of them. It got me to wondering if Henry Ford had ever built a Model T plant in China? The answer is no. The company explored the idea in the late 1930s, but Japan's invasion and the ongoing economic and political turmoil dissuaded the company, though it did offer sales of its vehicles -- trucks and successors to the Model T -- for a period of time until World War II.

The Model T design is likely so far out of US patent and copyright that I don't imagine Ford taking Yatian to court, or any of the copycats. Still, about the gig idea, I wonder if the folks at Yatian would trade some Cardano ADA for one?

First Published: 2022-06-12

Battery Fire: The New EV Anxiety?

Like gasoline-fueled vehicles, battery electric ones can catch fire. Should you be worried?

Byline: Bill Moore

Paris RATP Transit Bus Fire

I recently came across an amateur video shot in Paris capturing the moment the batteries on an all-electric transit bus exploded. First white smoke began to billow from the roof of the bus, immediately followed by a shower of sparks and then an explosion that in minutes consumed the bus, which fortunately was empty at the time. I should point out that electrical system fire likely is the cause of the destruction of a entire fleet of 20 conventionally powered buses across teh Channel in Britain in March of this year.

This of course, comes on the heels of the tragic death of a Florida medical doctor whose Tesla caught fire when he crashed, allegedly while speeding, trapping him inside. He leaves a wife and five children. Another Tesla driver had to break out the windows of his car to escape a similar fate when the electrically operated doors failed to open, presumably due to a short-circuit.

The fire department in Normal, Illinois, home of Rivian's assembly plant, again, for the third time, had to respond to a battery pack fire at the electric pickup maker's factory. Other than the one pack that caught fire on a test stand, no other damage was reported or workers injured.

Then in India, there have been a spate of thermal runaway events with foreign-made and locally-assembled scooters and batteries, prompting to a government probe and call for increased testing nd quality control. These are just the latest round of EV battery fires, largely due to one or more lithium-ion cells short circuiting, catching fire and cascading across the rest of the pack: what is called a "thermal runaway" event. With temperates approaching that of molten lava, these are very difficult and stubborn fires to quench, requiring enormous quantities of water.

It has been pointed out numerous times in the past that the number of such electric vehicle fires are few and far between and are a fraction of similar fires in gasoline engine vehicles. But I will also admit, as an electric car owner, that such catastrophic events are on my mind every time I plug in my Fiat 500e at night. However, a couple of things give me confidence that our smoke alarms won't go off in the middle of the night. The first one is that the car, which I bought "used" with some 24k miles on it, had previously been part of Chrysler's California-compliance lease program. Someone had had this car for 3 years prior to my ownership. They had charged it numerous times over that period without experiencing a thermal runaway: otherwise the car wouldn't be sitting in my garage.

Secondly, the battery pack was engineered and built by SB LiMotive, a Michigan based joint-venture of German auto supplier Bosch and Korean firm Samsung. As Motortrend noted back in 2010, the "[b]attery cells will be built in Korea, but assembled into finalized battery packs in a facility in Springboro, Ohio. From there, completed packs will be shipped to Chrysler's factory in Toluca, Mexico, which builds 500s for North America." I have had previous experience with questionable Chinese-made NiMH cells which lost their ability to hold a charge only 18 or so months after being installed in our 2009 Prius as part of an experimental PHEV conversion. The chairman of the battery company that made the cells later committed suicide: not a resounding vote of confidence in their product. This is not a condemnation of all Chinese-made EV batteries - CATL and BYD are two of the world's leading automotive traction battery producers: heck, fellow Omahan, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns shares of BYD. That being said, safely assembling high-energy density lithium-based batteries is a technological challenge. When I visited a prototype lithium battery plant outside of Beijing 20 years ago, I had to wear clean room coveralls and the air in the assembly room was tightly controlled for humidity: lithium reacts thermally with water vapor.

Even the world's most technologically sophisticated automotive OEMs, including GM, BYD, Tesla, Ford, Hyundai, and Chrysler have had their electrified (including hybrids and pure battery electric) models recalled due to fire risks. Still, knowing this didn't prevent me from purchasing one and regularly charging it, usually overnight, in my attached garage.

Yes, there are a few things to fret over when owning an electric vehicle, though, thankfully, ones like the dreaded "range anxiety" are becoming less of a concern, largely due to those same high-energy lithium batteries. Just as you shouldn't be all that concerned about how far your electric car will carry you, neither should you let the very, very remote possibility of a battery fire prevent you from "driving electric" today and into the future.

First Published: 2022-06-02

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