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UK Electric Car Perks ‘Shockingly Generous’

Ed Conway, The Times

Subsidies aimed at cutting emissions are helping the better-off and risk creating new problems

Until recently I took the Tube to work pretty much every day. But recently I realised that in the past few months I haven’t made the journey once. Why? In short, because my alternative means of transport costs me a fraction of what I’d pay on the Tube. These days, you see, I drive an electric car.

No doubt you’ve already heard that we plug-in motorists get a few government giveaways, but did you realise the half of it? Put it this way: I used to pay the best part of six quid to travel in to work and back. Today I pay less than a pound. I am excused the London congestion charge. I pay only a fraction of the parking fees normal drivers do (in Westminster electric cars get four hours of parking for the cost of ten minutes).

And while it’s certainly true that electric cars themselves are expensive, we also get lavish grants to help us afford them. There is a grant of up to £4,500 against the cost of the car itself, a grant to help pay for your home charging point, free road tax (provided you bought before this April), generous capital allowances and, if you live in Scotland, the government will even give you an interest-free loan. Oh, and you also get free electricity to charge your car (and free parking) if you pick the right charge point.

Do I deserve this charity? Of course not. And to judge from the other electric car owners I’ve met over the past few months, neither do they. The fact that we are being subsidised by other taxpayers, many of whom can barely afford it, only makes it more egregious. My only defence is that I am a human being, and human beings respond to incentives. That, after all, is one of the cardinal rules of economics.

Yet in striving to meet one goal (cutting emissions) the government is undermining its efforts to tackle other goals (cutting congestion; narrowing the gap between rich and poor), raising the question: is the long-term objective, the creation of a working market for electric cars, worth the short-term problems?

Economic history is littered with examples of politicians coming up with a clever wheeze and then watching it backfire disastrously.

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