FULLY CHARGED: Per Mile Charges and Car Bans
We’re certainly living in interesting times. As an example, witness how the world at large continues to claw its way out of a pandemic, but one that is fueling the bike industry and e-bikes in a massive way. The good news is that both are working, and e-bike sales are way up and show no sign of slowing. Alas, the only thing getting in the way are the supply-chain issues, which will take a couple of years to resolve.
There are some other interesting changes coming. Both the federal government and California’s government are looking at imposing a per-mile tax on cars and passenger trucks to help pay for infrastructure. You know, as in the roads we drive on!
Since states like California and New York are starting to ban the sales of new gas-powered cars and passenger trucks by 2035 to fight climate change, electric cars escape from the gas taxes. It’s an interesting dichotomy, as right now electric cars are relatively expensive, so wealthier people buy them, then don’t have to pay gas taxes.
On the federal level, this per-mile tax makes sense, regardless of whether it’s checked by an odometer or GPS. On the state level, however, it’s tricky, because what happens when you drive out of state? Will there be a GPS device in our cars that track our every move (yeah, yeah, I know, our smartphones already do that)? Will that device collect GPS data that is either protected, encrypted or anonymized?
In addition to the many questions about security, there is also the question of whether our electrical grid is robust enough to handle so many cars charging at once (with 27.7 million cars registered, California tops the list). And just how will people be able to afford to buy an electric car? California has invested in massive battery storage, but it hasn’t been enough to keep up with power demand when it’s been really hot and everyone is running air conditioning, so the result has been experiencing rolling blackouts.
To be clear, I’m not against electric vehicles. I’m very much for them and have been excitedly watching the growth of Tesla, as well as happily seeing Rivian start delivering their trucks to customers and the delivery vans for Amazon (who ordered 100,000 of the electric vans). These are all steps in the right direction. General Motors jumped on the electric bandwagon with their pledge to offer 30 new all-electric vehicles by 2025 and be fully electric by 2035. Bentley, Jaguar, Mini and Lotus all have their commitments by 2025–2030.
The UK shifted their ban on sales of new internal-combustion engine cars from 2040 to 2030. Remember, this is a ban on sales of new ones, not an outright ban of all gas-powered cars. Even in the U.S., the average age of a car is 11.5 years, so it will still take time for full adoption.
To do all this, we will have to start making batteries cheaper and more efficient. Fortunately, this has been happening, even in the e-bike world. In five years we’ve gone from a normal 400Wh battery to new ones with 700+ Wh, and the prices have dropped. Tesla’s new 4680-cell battery will reduce the cost of making a car battery by 56 percent, and that will help the industry tremendously. Alas, those cells are too big for e-bikes, which usually favor 18650 or sometimes the larger 21700 cells.
I’m all for paying for our roads through our taxes, but it just has to be fair. The pilot program going on in California now tracks mileage and sends out a bill to drivers, while at the same time refunding the state taxes paid on gasoline. My hope is that that will happen to all drivers, as taxes are often not rescinded as another comes along. If there will be a federal and state mileage tax and a federal and state gas tax, that may prohibit many families from being able to afford to drive anywhere.
Either way, I predict that the sales of e-bikes will continue their upward trend, and the fact that families can use them for transportation without having to be registered or taxed per mile is going to help fuel those sales.
I have friends who bought e-bikes and lived without a car; their story is in this issue. I think that e-bikes are a very important part of the future and will continue to grow, and I think the reported 145-percent growth in the market will sustain itself.