A Thousand Bucks To Renew Our Car Registration

Next year, it’s going to cost us almost $1,000 to renew our car registration for one year. The actual amount is estimated at $950. That’s insane. There is something called the Sound Transit RTA tax. It’s an excise tax calculated on the MSRP of each car that is within the Sound Transit zone. This zone covers the most populous part of Washington. Currently, we live a few miles outside that zone. When we move, we will be just inside its border.

Our state has no income tax. All of our taxation is regressive. We have high state and county sales tax. It’s 10% in our current county. Gasoline taxes are among the highest in the US. Gas is over $5 a gallon here. Where we are moving, gas is a more reasonable $3.50 a gallon.

We drive a plug-in hybrid vehicle. It runs on battery power for about thirty miles and then goes to hybrid mode. I think we have the best choice to reduce emissions under current conditions. Our state realized that people like us don’t buy as much gas. Isn’t that a good thing? Nope. It cuts back on gas tax revenue. So, our state government added a $150 charge to our annual registration to make up for the gas we aren’t buying. We also pay more because part of the cost of registering a car is based on its weight. Batteries make a car heavier. The state of Washington penalizes people who are trying to help the environment. A gas-guzzling, 6,000-pound pickup is exempt from the RTA tax and pays no surcharges like we do.

The reason we will have to pay an extra $590 a year is to pay for light rail expansion. This is the Seattle subway system that is supposed to connect people in the RTA tax zone with efficient transit service. My new address is in this tax area but is not served by any of the transit options. That’s right, no subways, buses, or anything else. We are expected to cheerfully pay for services that we will never get a chance to use.

It gets worse. Because I can’t drive due to my poor vision (glaucoma) and I can’t walk very well, I’m eligible for special transit options. Where we live now, that means a small bus or van will come to our house and take me where I want to go within the county. This is under a Federally mandated program. A similar system exists where we are moving. I applied and was accepted. I got a phone call that explained that I was outside of the Sound Transit pickup area, so if I wanted to use the special transit option, I would have to find a way to get to a location inside the service area to be picked up. They proudly informed me that the United Way offers such a service.

Getting the picture? We will be living inside a special taxation area that is paying for transit services for that area. However, our house is never going to be served by any of the services we are paying for. I’ve used the special transit services where we live now. It made it possible for me to get physical therapy without forcing Mrs. Lion to lose a day’s pay in order to drive me to the appointment and then take me home afterward.

If I want to do the same thing from our new house, I have to schedule a United Way pickup to drive me about a mile to a Walmart that is inside the transit area. I have to allow a 30-minute window for the pickup. I have to allow another 30-minute window for the transit van to get me at the WalMart. I need to make sure that I leave early enough to ensure I’ll reach my final destination in time for my appointment. So, if I have an 11 AM doctor’s appointment, I would need to get the United Way van to pick me up between 8 and 8:30. The earliest I could request a pickup at WalMart would be 9 AM. The driver could arrive at 9:30. I have to allow at least an hour for the trip to my destination since the transit van will be making other pickups and dropoffs before I get where I’m going. Exhausting. I have to repeat this process to get back home. If my appointment is over at 11:30, I will probably be lucky to get home at 3 PM. Not worth the trouble.

The disabled transport service is mandated to pick up people within one mile of the nearest bus/train stop. I am outside of that range, yet I have to pay for the transit system that will never serve me.

A car is an absolute necessity where we live. Using registration fees to support huge public works penalizes people who are struggling with marginal income. The law doesn’t care if you are a disabled vet living on Social Security or Bill Gates. If you want to be able to drive, you have to pay the piper. Mrs. Lion and I are well above the poverty level, yet a hit for $1,000 to register our car hurts. We’ll come up with it, but it will force us to do without something else that we need or want. Where else does it cost that much for license plates?


  1. That side of the state has been voting for liberal politicians for decades. Y’all get what you vote for. They promise clean air, clean water, public transportation to help the poor and disabled, help for the homeless, and every other pie in the sky idea. They just don’t tell anyone that there wallet will need to be emptied in order to achieve utopia. Liberal politicians hate you, and the damn republicans are no better. Sorry you are living through it. This country needs a reset.

    1. Author

      Well, what’s the alternative? Let poor people starve? I don’t begrudge the cost of helping the needy. I also favor regional public transportation. The problem here is the insane tax drivers have to pay if they happen to live in a zip code that the RTA thinks it can tax. It would be different if the busses and trains actually ran to where I live.

  2. I would sueing them or form a class action law. They have to be breaking a federal law. Maybe a state rep for an exemption.
    By the way PA. $90 for two years. Been reading your posts for a couple years.

    1. Author

      Since Washington has no income tax, all revenue must come from other sources. The state and counties use gas tax to finance road construction and maintenance as well as help fund public transportation. That’s why we have very high gasoline prices here. A few years ago, the state decided that Seattle needed to upgrade its public transportation system. This included a new light rail and lots of other infrastructure improvements. To fund this they put tolls on one Lake Washington crossing and added a RTA tax to auto registrations. The tax is only charged to people residing in a specific “urban” area. It’s an insane tax based on the MSRP of the vehicle with allowance for depreciation. The net result is that our 2023 Hyundai Tucson plug-in hybrid is subject to $650 in 2024 in RTA tax. It’s crazy.

      A few years ago, a pettition got a measure on the ballot requiring that auto registration cost no more than $30 a year. It passed. So now the state charges $30 PLUS vehicle weight charges and lots of other stuff. To make matters worse, the state decided that since electric vehicles would pay less/no gasoline tax, they should pay a “fee” in registration. So, we pay $150 a year for the privilege of not polluting.

      1. Thanks for the return comment. It is a shame you live in Washington state. The first problem is the tax structure is dependent on gas tax to run the government. Washington state is ahead Pennsylvania on understanding they are losing tax money. The federal government has the same tax problems. There problem is to tax the public. Switching to electric is going to cost us more money than we can afford. I as on a fixed income for sixteen years with the same income. I am screwed.

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