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If all these cars were charged at home, the government would need another way to make up the money it would lose in gas taxes. (Tim Fraser/Tim Fraser/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
If all these cars were charged at home, the government would need another way to make up the money it would lose in gas taxes. (Tim Fraser/Tim Fraser/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The Green Highway

Electric cars could make toll roads inevitable Add to ...

Motorists generally have a fit when environmentalists suggest that in order to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions the Don Valley Parkway or the 401 should become a toll road. Yet the approach might arrive sooner than you think because of all the zero emission electric cars that are coming on to the market.

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How does that make sense, you ask? Zero emission means the problem's solved. Not so fast - it's about taxes.

About a third of the price that you pay at the pump goes straight to government supposedly to help pay for roads with a penny or two for public transit. If you charge your new buggy off a wall plug at home you won't be visiting the pumps and paying the cut to government. Even if you're driving a super-efficient gasoline-powered car you'll be using a lot less of the stuff and that squeezes the taxman, too.

In England, home of the Congestion Charge, the RAC Foundation has recently reported that some form of "pay-as-you-go" road charging is now inevitable. This is from the charitable research foundation set up years ago by the Royal Automobile Club. Its conclusion is that the fall in fuel tax revenue will force governments to act.

The foundation also did a big public opinion survey on the topic; 46 per cent of the British population supported a toll system on major roads if the fuel tax is also cut.

The head of the foundation said, "The poll shows that most people are instinctively opposed to road user charging when they think it is an extra tax. But when the details are explained and they realize the benefits then the opposition falls away dramatically."

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While we're talking about England, perhaps you noticed that Prince Charles is throwing open his corner of the palace for an environmentally friendly car show. He's also trying to cut down his carbon footprint by flying around less in a private jet and now runs his Land Rover on biodiesel made from used cooking oil and his favourite Aston Martin on bioethanol made from surplus wine.

From Sept. 8 through 19, the grounds of Prince Charles' Lancaster House, Clarence House and Marlborough House, as well as areas along the Mall, will be jammed with clean, green vehicles, and other exhibitions on sustainability subjects such as building, food and fashion. It'll cost about 25 bucks to get in as a spectator or about 20 thousand to be an exhibitor.

The event will be kicked off with a "race" from Glasgow to London in which a fleet of green cars will be racing the Prince's private train that will be fuelled by recycled French fry grease. The Green Highway takes some peculiar turns.

The Terrafugia Transition is airborne with Lake Champlain in the background.


One way to avoid the toll roads that seem to be coming is to fly over them.

There's a street-ready airplane-car combo that's been flying around at experimental aircraft shows this summer. It's from Terrafugia Inc. (Latin for escape the earth) and apparently will go 115 mph in the air or 65 mph on the road. Its official name is the Transition Roadable Aircraft and it has airbags in case you crash it on the road and a great big parachute in case you fall out of the sky. If it ever goes into production, it will cost at least $200,000 a copy.

A pusher propeller is driven by a 100-hp Rotax engine when in flight. On land, with the wings fully folded, the engine connects to rear-wheel-drive through a continuously variable transmission.

Terrafugia is based in Woburn, Massachusetts, and was founded by five pilots who are MIT graduates. Maybe they should take one over for Prince Charlie's show. It would look good landing on The Mall.

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