Transportation
8:30 pm
Wed August 15, 2012

State Lawmakers Examining Tax Options for Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Gasoline and diesel fuel vehicles still make up the majority of those on the state’s roadways, but as more transportation entities look to alternative fuel vehicles, gas tax revenue might take a hit. A hearing of the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee took on that issue in downtown Pittsburgh Wednesday. Chair, Representative Richard Geist (R-Altoona), asked an official from the Department of Revenue how many electric cars are on the state’s roadways. That wasn’t clear, so Geist took a different track.

“How much money did you collect last year from electric vehicles? Total – for the whole state?”

“15 dollars,” answered Nicolas Banting, Revenue Research Analyst Manager.

Geist said lawmakers and the Department of Revenue need to come up with a solution to ensure that everyone who uses the state’s roads and bridges helps pay for them.

“It’s absolutely, utterly ridiculous to give somebody a free ride on Pennsylvania’s roads while the guy who’s driving the SUV is paying all the fuel taxes. You have to have a system that’s fair and equitable,” said Geist.

Geist was the sponsor of a 1997 bill that taxes alternative fuels based on their equivalency to BTUs of gasoline, but said that law is clearly not working.  At least one of the people to testify proposed a sticker system, where owners of electric vehicles would have to purchase a sticker before being able to register their vehicle. Geist said legislation is being crafted right now, and lawmakers will likely introduce a new tax package at the beginning of next term.

 Port Authority Looking to Natural Gas

Trucking companies and mass transit systems across the U.S. are looking into the feasibility of converting fleets to natural gas. This topic was also discussed at the hearing.

“Transit agencies across the country have been using natural gas for quite a few years depending on the situations. Here in Pennsylvania, the transit agency in State College is a 100% natural gas-fueled fleet. They’ve been using it for a number of years and it works quite well for them. Port Authority actually experimented with natural gas in the early 90s and found the technology to be not too good,” said Allegheny County Port Authority CEO Steve Bland.

He added, the technology has come a long way. PAT has been studying a switch to an alternatively fueled fleet for more than a year and has found numerous benefits including a reduction in harmful emissions into the air and long-term cost savings. But, he said there are also some challenges.

“The major constraint is, it’s a huge up-front capital cost to get our facilities ready to use natural gas buses. So that, right now, is the major barrier to really going head first into that project,” he said.

Others testifying at the hearing were supportive of more natural gas use in Pennsylvania. Bob Beatty of O-Ring CNG Fuel Systems said the use of that fuel could help wean the U.S. off foreign oil while building a robust workforce in Pennsylvania.