Jun 7, 2022 - News

D.C. wants to tax heavier cars

Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The District is poised to levy a first-in-the-nation fee for SUVs, pickup trucks, and other large vehicles registered in the city.

Why it matters: The provision, which would require owners of vehicles weighing over 6,000 pounds to pay an annual $500 vehicle registration fee, is aimed, in part, at curbing pedestrian fatalities.

  • Fees for cars weighing between 3,500 and 6,000 would also rise.

At a glance, the types of vehicles weighing over 6,000 pounds include an Audi Q7 SUV, a Chrysler Pacifica minivan, and a Chevy Suburban or Silverado, among many others.

There are just over 279,000 passenger vehicles registered in the District. Of that, a little more than 13,750 weigh more than 5,000 pounds, Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh’s office tells Axios.

State of play: Traffic fatalities have risen in D.C. in recent years. A pedestrian or cyclist is killed every 18 days in the District, according to an Urban Institute analysis.

  • In March, two people were killed when a man driving an SUV crashed into people eating outside a Greek restaurant on Connecticut Avenue NW.

Details: The current fee structure charges $155/year for vehicles weighing 5,000 pounds or more. Electric vehicles and hybrid cars, regardless of weight, pay $36/year for their first two years before following the regular fee structure as other cars.

  • Under the new proposal, the 2-year discount would remain but is narrowed just to electric vehicles.
  • The proposal allows electric vehicle owners to subtract 1,000 pounds in weight when applying the new fee structure, which could allow the Tesla Model X to avoid some of the steeper fees.
  • According to CityLab Bloomberg, which first reported on the new rule, the proposal would add $40 million to the city’s general fund over five years.

What they’re saying: Cheh, who chairs the transportation committee and proposed the change, told Bloomberg the “heavier the car, the worse the accident will be.”

  • Heavier cars threaten pedestrian safety, as well as damage roads, and contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than lighter cars, Cheh’s committee said in a report this year.
  • If people want heavier cars, the “District should do what it can to recoup money necessary to counteract the ill-effects of those heavier vehicles,” the report says.

The other side: In a letter to council chair Phil Mendelson, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation argued that the fee structure would put D.C. at the top of the list for the highest vehicle registration taxes, and contended that the proposal would be detrimental to the adoption of electric vehicles.

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles could not provide Axios with data on vehicles registered by weight.

What's next: The council already approved the fiscal 2023 budget, and a final procedural vote is set for next Tuesday, making any changes unlikely. The new fee structure would go into effect in fiscal year 2024, according to Mendelson.

  • “There’s an opportunity for us to refine this if we think we got it wrong,” Mendelson said Monday. “It doesn’t kick in right away.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that the $36/year electric vehicle and hybrid fee structure is only for two years and that the proposal would keep this discount, but narrow it.


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