Photo: Emily Metcalf
Honolulu’s H-1 Freeway – Photo: Emily Metcalf

By Lowell L. Kalapa – Last week we shared with readers some of the ways the highway user is tapped to fund what is obliquely related to the construction, repair and maintenance of state and county roads.

The last example related how the office that administers the parking program for the disabled wants to raise the vehicle registration fee by another dollar to fund that program. While that proposal is hardly justifiable, taxpayers should be more concerned about the benefits state laws confer on select users of the highways and roads such as the disabled.

While certainly no one will argue with parking stalls dedicated for handicap use because of their close proximity to a store or restaurant or whatever facility it serves, it is another thing when it comes to exempting all disabled labeled vehicles from paying for parking. As noted in an earlier commentary, age and disability are no indicators of financial need. The classic image of this viewpoint is seeing a very expensive car, like a Jaguar or a Lincoln, with a disabled placard parked in a metered stall and the meter flashing red in need of a quarter. Meanwhile, the gal behind that car driving a beat-up 1993 Corolla fishes in her handbag for a quarter to avoid getting a rather expensive parking ticket.

Free parking is not only conferred on the disabled, but it is also extended to drivers of electric vehicles. Apparently in a drive to look “green,” lawmakers adopted several laws over the years that not only exempt electric vehicles from parking fees but from vehicle registration fees and other fees including license plate fees. While those were temporary, the latest law adopted in 2012 continues the parking exemption for another seven years and allows free parking for an electric vehicle for up to two and a half hours or the maximum allowable time at a metered stall and up to twenty-four hours where the parking fee is based on a weekly, monthly or annual parking period.

One would think that any driver who can afford to purchase an all electric car, which runs a minimum of $35,000, could well afford to pay the quarter to park in a metered stall or the fee at the parking lot. So one has to ask, why should these drivers be given a free ride insofar as parking fees? Conversely, if there is a shortfall in the county highway funds, as some of the counties are claiming, then that shortfall may have to be made up by increasing the cost of the metered parking that will be paid by all other highway users who are not granted a similar exemption.

Speaking of electric vehicles, while not granted an exemption from the vehicle weight tax, these cars also do not use conventional fuel like gasoline or diesel and, therefore, don’t pay some or any of the state and county fuel taxes yet they put wear and tear on the state and county roads at the same rate as gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. This is an issue that has state and county elected officials contemplating as to how to ask drivers of either electric or hybrid vehicles to pay their fair share of repair and maintenance of the road system.

Other states have explored possibilities using the number of miles driven during the year as a measure of usage and then imposing a fee of so many cents or dollars per mile driven in a twelve-month period. Others have considered a flat fee per vehicle. However, there doesn’t seem to be an acceptable alternative for taxing these vehicles. It should be remembered that the three common sources of highway financing are the fuel tax, which measures the number of miles driven, the vehicle weight tax, which measures how much damage a vehicle inflicts on the public roadways with heavier vehicles paying higher per pound rates than lighter vehicles, and the annual registration fee which can be viewed as an “admission” ticket for the right to enter the public highway system.

This latter component underscores another inequity in financing the roadways and those who use them. Prior to 1998, bicycles and mopeds had to be registered every two years at a cost of $8. In 1998 the legislation was changed and bicycles and mopeds pay a one-time fee of $15 and that is it! So when elected officials want to look “green” and court cycling constituents by building more bike lanes and setting aside more of the roadway for bicycles, one has to ask who is going to pay for those improvements?

Once again the highway user will be tapped to pick up the tab. If the cycling public wants more bike lanes and dedicated parts of the roadways, then they should be willing to pay for them.

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