The United States needs a 45% drop in transportation emissions by 2030 to meet its climate pledges, and the country’s web of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) branches is ideally positioned to help make that happen, says a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Meeting U.S. climate goals means “putting 70 million electric light-duty vehicles on the road and reducing our vehicle miles traveled by 20% in the next few years,” and the DMV network may well be the “climate champion” that makes it happen, RMI writes.
“As a well-established administration with routine interactions with millions of car owners, DMV offices constitute the portal through which all car owners travel to use the roads,” writes RMI. Which means DMVs at state and local levels “could help align the cost of vehicle ownership with climate and equity goals by structuring vehicle title and annual registration fees to reflect the vehicle characteristics that most affect the environment, infrastructure, and public safety.”
In practice, a new “innovative fee model” would find “owners of expensive, heavy, dangerous, high-emissions passenger vehicles” paying higher fees. The resulting revenues would be “reinvested into cleaner and more equitable mobility alternatives.”
The idea is by no means hypothetical, RMI notes, citing a recent Washington, DC proposal for “an annual $500 fee for vehicles weighing over 6,000 pounds, combined with a credit for electric vehicles (EVs) weighing over 1,000 pounds so as to not dissuade electrification.”
Across 22 most populous cities in the U.S., “differentiated DMV fees could decrease registrations of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 5%, boost EV adoption by 39%, and reduce the overall number of on-road [light-duty vehicles] by 3%,” RMI projects.
The biggest impact of the new fee model would be seen in “large, relatively dense cities with strong public transit systems” like Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago. But even cities famous for sprawl and poor transit systems “would see significant change, especially in vehicle fleet composition.”
In Austin and Los Angeles, for example, “EV adoption would jump by 20% and 35%, respectively; ICE vehicle registration would fall by 2% and 4%, and the total number of LDV registrations would decrease by 2%.”
While the new fee model would be designed to “incentivize less driving on a per-vehicle basis,” RMI says it would also make driving easier on the planet and safer for pedestrians by encouraging smaller, lighter vehicles.