Higher Fee For Hybrids Sends Wrong Message
by Alan Meyer


The Oregon Legislature has decreed that, starting this year, the annual registration fee for hybrid-powered vehicles would be twice that charged for other passenger vehicles.

The policy discourages ownership of these vehicles, which have far fewer environmental impacts than cars powered solely by gas.

People buy hybrids because they don't pollute and because they are relatively economical to operate. People don't buy them because of a low purchase price: Many cars, some highly economical, sell for thousands of dollars less than the hybrids.

"SULEV," which means Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, is the federal government's designation for automobiles that produce the fewest emissions. Only the hybrids -- the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight -- and a very few other cars qualify as SULEVs.

We are encouraged to be environmentally friendly, to pollute less, to use less energy. We are all aware that automobiles are an important cause of pollution.

We remember days in Portland of high pollution, when people were asked either not to drive or to share the ride. We buy a hybrid, and now find that we are required to pay higher registration fees than just about everyone else on the road.

In developing the hybrid vehicles, the car manufacturers are making a major effort to help solve the pollution problem. Toyota, it's been reported, loses money on every Prius it sells because of higher production costs. Although not many hybrids are now on the road, they are a technical success, clearly popular -- there is a waiting list -- and more car makers, including Ford, are planning to produce them.

What then is the sense in discouraging their sales by charging twice as much -- $60 -- to register one?

The Driver and Motor Vehicle Division's explanation to us was that while these vehicles do use less fuel, they still create wear on the highways. The higher registration fee makes up for the loss of fuel tax revenue.

How many hybrid vehicles are registered in Oregon? A thousand? How important a source of revenue can this be, compared to the negative message the fee sends?

Or is there something else at work here: The Legislature may have made a breakthrough in connecting automobile fuel efficiency to registration fees. Why stop with the hybrids? We have miles-per-gallon figures for virtually every car on the road. Let's connect registration fees to fuel efficiency for every car: Give those people who own gas guzzlers a break.

It occurs to me that Oregon has another revenue source out there, waiting to be tapped. How many of those new, energy-efficient light bulbs have been sold in the state? They use far less energy than the old bulbs, don't they? How about charging a fee to use them, since the user's power bill -- and thus the tax on the bill -- is lower?

Alan Meyer lives in Newberg.

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