DC residents driving a vehicle that weighs at least 6000 pounds will pay $500 per year to register it with a Washington license plate. Last year, the heaviest weight category began at 5000 pounds and cost $155.
Any vehicle under 3500 pounds remains $72, while anything between 3500 and 4999 pounds is now $175 per year (up from $115), and 5000 to 5999 pounds is $250 per year (a $95 increase).
“The heavier vehicles take a heavier toll on our roads,” explained Councilmember Mary Cheh.
Full-size pickup trucks and SUVs have been the Big Thing for about a decade now, and $5-plus gas notwithstanding, there seems little inclination to go back to midsize sedans.
But even as a slew of new all-electric trucks—from the Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning to the GMC Hummer, Chevrolet Silverado EV, and Tesla Cybertruck—feed our nation’s love for oversized conveyances, they just don’t fit that well into congested urban areas.
Washington, DC, has implemented new annual registration fees delineated, as before, by curb weight category, but now designed to discourage residents from driving big trucks.
If you drive a vehicle weighing at least 6000 pounds, it will cost you $500 per year to register it with a Washington license plate. Last year, the heaviest weight category began at 5000 pounds and cost $155. Certain Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade models tip the scales over 6000 pounds, along with some heavy-duty pickups. [The Chevy Suburban—pictured above—is a favorite of the US Secret Service for use by Congress members, though they are not registered as District of Columbia vehicles.]
The new fees also would affect owners of old, gas-powered Hummers from the early '00s, and medium-duty pickups might also fall into this category.
Any vehicle under 3500 pounds remains $72 and still comes with the license plate slogan, “Taxation without representation.” Anything between 3500 and 4999 pounds is now $175 per year (up from $115), and 5000 to 5999 pounds is $250 per year (a $95 increase).
“The heavier vehicles take a heavier toll on our roads,” explained Councilmember Mary Cheh, who as chairperson of the Washington, DC, Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment included the new fee schedule in the District’s annual budget. Second reason, she said, “is the environmental impact.”
But the third reason is most important to her: “You’re two to three times more likely to be killed as a pedestrian or bicyclist” if struck by a vehicle weighing three tons or more, she says. Washington has suffered a disproportionate increase in pedestrian and cyclist traffic fatalities in recent years.
The new higher fees will bring in “a couple-million dollars more” for DC’s general fund beginning next year, and Cheh has earmarked the extra funds “to go directly into road safety,” particularly in school zones.
The new fee schedule recognizes that battery-electric vehicles weigh substantially more than combustion-powered vehicles. A 3589-pound Chevrolet Bolt and a 3681-pound Tesla Model 3 would fit into the $175 per-year category, but these vehicles would face annual registration fees of only $72 because all EVs get 1000 pounds for free. That 1000-pound allowance will be appreciated by owners of the F-150 Lightning EV, which weighs in a 6400-7000 pounds, according to the Car and Driver Buyers Guide. The guide also estimates the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer 4x4 weighs an estimated 6400 pounds, and it’s not an EV.
DC residents who can afford a new or late model vehicle of a certain size and pay to refuel it probably won’t be dissuaded by the legislation from continuing to drive it. “I have no illusions that this increase in fees will get some people to get rid of a car,” Cheh said.
The bigger issue for Washington is more akin to a state implementing strict gun laws that won’t prevent gun owners from crossing the border with an AR-15: Big SUVs from Virginia and Maryland suburbs can still drop kids off at a private school in DC before squeezing into a K Street parking garage, and not face the same weight-based fees as the locals.
Before the pandemic, there was interest in big US cities adapting the sort of congestion fees that London and Stockholm have implemented for years. For example, in April 2019, New York state passed a law to allow congestion pricing in Manhattan. But no such pricing has been implemented in New York City.
Now the bigger issue is how to get people back into downtown areas even as the coronavirus has made public mass transit unappealing to many commuters. Washington may consider congestion zones in the future, Cheh said, but for now attracting people back to downtown areas to spend money on dining and entertainment would be another indication we’re returning to a pre-pandemic “normal.”