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Hybrid Fee Fuels Funding Debate

February 22, 2013

The transportation bill passed by Virginia's House of Delegates Friday includes a provision that is fueling some debate among drivers.

Among the plans to raise about $880 million in transportation funding is a new $100 fee for purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Supporters say it will help make up for taxes hybrid owners are able to avoid, but opponents like Charlottesville City Councilor Dave Norris say it unfairly targets some of the most eco-friendly drivers.

"If the idea is that we're going to charge people more because they're more fuel efficient, why are we only charging drivers of hybrid vehicles that are fuel efficient," said Norris. "Why not charge drivers of gas-powered vehicles that happen to be fuel efficient?"

A 2009 study found Charlottesville to be one of the metropolitan areas where hybrids are most popular.

Norris says the fee would have a big impact on the Charlottesville-Albemarle area and calls it a step in the wrong direction.

"If anything, public policy and tax policy should be encouraging people to use hybrids, not penalizing people for using hybrids," said Norris.

But as gas prices rise, more drivers are opting for the fuel-efficient vehicles to help cut back costs.

Yellow Cab of Charlottesville recently added 25 hybrid vehicles to its fleet. Owner Mark Brown says, while the fee seems "kind of silly," the financial benefits of having a hybrid vehicle outweigh the potential charge.

"Switching from cars that got 10 miles per gallon to cars that got nearly 40 was a big savings for our drivers," said Brown.

Brown equated the $100 fee to two tanks of gas and said, while it would impact his business, lawmakers needs to come up with funding somehow.

"We need some new roads. We need to pay for it all. If having to have this tax is part of doing all that, that's something we'll just have to deal with," said Brown.

The Senate still needs to vote on the bill before the General Assembly closes on Sunday.

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