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What is the Right Question about Electric Cars?

Shirley Ybarra
June 10, 2010, 10:01pm

A very interesting article in the Washington Post entitled:  “Do More Electric Cars Mean R.I.P. for mpg?”  

The article is actually about the wringing of the hands concerning how to categorize the new cars be they electric, hybrids or some combination.  In other words how to classify these cars for the miles per gallon (mpg) rating that a consumer would typically use to consider a new car.

According to the article:

"There's no clear answer for how we should be informing the public about the efficiency of these new cars," said Mike Duoba, a research engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, outside Chicago. "The language we have been speaking -- mpg -- isn't sophisticated enough."
To fill the gap, researchers and Environmental Protection Agency officials have been conducting vehicle tests, researching driver habits and even running focus groups toward informing consumers about which cars are energy hogs.
Whatever metric they come up with is considered key to shaping consumer choices that in aggregate could profoundly affect smog and carbon emissions. The EPA is responsible for developing the fuel-economy labels posted on window stickers of all new cars and light trucks. A proposed rule is scheduled to be issued by August.
The onset of plug-in vehicles "will require new metrics to effectively convey information to consumers," according to an EPA statement. The new metrics are expected to change the way fuel-economy estimates are calculated and displayed."

All of this is interesting but perhaps more interesting to us in the transportation arena is the question of what impact the more fuel efficient vehicles has on the transportation trust funds at both the federal and the state level. After all, the trust fund revenues are derived from gas taxes at both the federal and the state level. 

So what are the next steps in funding additional capacity and maintenance of our infrastructure? 
We have often talked about toll roads, public private partnerships and perhaps charges for vehicle miles travelled.  There is clearly no easy answer regarding funding but this article should indicate the issues facing the transportation policy makers.  Categorizing the mpg for car buyers is far from the biggest issue.


Shirley Ybarra is Senior Transportation Policy Analyst


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