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Why It's Too Soon to Raise Sticker Fees

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Why It's Too Soon to Raise Sticker Fees

Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st Ward) is a pretty hip guy. He’s the youngest member of the City Council, he represents Wicker Park, and he’s been to every Pitchfork Festival.

But he’s living in the future with his plan to offer free vehicle stickers to electric cars, while raising them $20 for everyone else.

According to the Tribune's Clout Street, under Moreno’s proposal, “stickers for cars and sports-utility vehicles that weigh more than 4,500 pounds would increase by $35 to $155, and trucks topping 16,000 pounds would also go up by $35 to $455.
 
“Stickers for electric cars would be free. For small hybrids, they would be $50, and for larger hybrids, they would be $65.”

The measure was tabled by the Council’s Finance Committee and won’t come up again until after Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration.

At February’s Auto Show, I took a ride in a Volt, Chevy’s new electric car. The Volt was named 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, but most Chicagoans aren’t ready to own one. When I climbed into the passenger seat, my first reaction was, “Wow, this is even more cramped than my old Dodge Neon.”
 
“How much is this going to cost?” I asked the driver.

“They start at $41,000,” he said, “although there is a $7,500 tax credit for buying an electric car.”

I looked at the back seat. Two American-sized people could squeeze in there.

The Volt is a $20,000 car, for twice the money. Even if I could afford to replace my Ford Focus hatchback with a Volt, I wouldn't do it. It’s too small for my cross-country skis and my camping equipment. Plus, like so many Chicagoans, I live in an apartment building, where I have no place to charge an electric car. The only Volt owner I know is a wealthy retired car dealer who bought one to show off his environmental awareness. He’d get a free sticker, while I’d pay $95.

Even though the Volt is a tiny, expensive toy, GM did the right thing by rushing it into showrooms before guys like me are ready to buy one. Eventually, lithium-ion batteries will be cheaper. Eventually, apartment buildings will install charging stations. Eventually, gas will cost $6 a gallon. When all that happens, a lot of us will buy electric cars. That’s the time to change sticker fees.

A tax credit for owning a Volt makes sense, because that rewards people for buying an electric car. But changing the sticker fee punishes people for not buying an electric car that most can’t afford, or even use. And that’s not fair.

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