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Electric Vehicle information for Atlanta and Georgia

EV access to HOV / express lanes and state fees

High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are highway lanes that restrict access to vehicles with multiple occupants.

High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes are highway lanes that restrict access to vehicles with multiple occupants OR to those willing to pay an extra fee, at that moment, to drive in that lane despite not carrying enough occupants in the vehicle. Fee payment is handled with a small electronic box (“transponder”) carried in the car, read by an automatic monitoring system as you drive down the lane, and debited against your PeachPass account.

The PeachPass system provides A) an account that can assess lane fees against your credit card, and B) one or more physical transponders to be carried in one or more cars. There is a PeachPass smartphone app that you can use to change a specific transponder between toll and non-toll mode; more on this below.

EV owners in Georgia can get free, single-person access to the most of the HOV/HOT lanes in metro Atlanta.

How to qualify for the perk

You do NOT qualify for the lane access just by owning an EV. You need to get a special “alternative fuel vehicle” (AFV) license plate for your car. To get the AFV plate, you need to register the car normally and receive your generic license plate, then go back to the vehicle registration office with that generic plate and exchange it for the special AFV plate. If buying from a dealer, in theory that dealer can get the AFV plate for you in one paperwork step, but they really need to know what they are doing and have the correct forms. They usually don’t, and so you’ll get a generic plate, and then you take that into your county office and exchange it.

The AFV plate does cost an extra $35 per year. This was originally supposed to be to compensate the state for the fact that you aren’t paying gasoline taxes, but then they instituted the separate, extra, wildly unfair $200 penalty (below) …

The pay HOV lanes (aka High Occupancy Toll or HOT lanes) are free for EVs, but you need to get a PeachPass account and transponder/tag for your car, and then either A) get the account switched to “non-toll” status, or B) switch just your EV’s transponder to “non-toll”. To do either of these, call into PeachPass after your account is set up and ask them to switch you to “non toll”, either your entire account or just the transponder that you’ll keep in the EV.

You can also switch your transponder on-the-fly using the PeachPass smartphone app.

There’s more on this below, because the new (2018) I-75 express lanes made all this much more complicated.

Range-extended EVs have a choice

Electric cars with “range extender” gasoline engines (to generate electricity on long trips), and plug-in hybrids, *DO* qualify for this HOV lane access perk. This means the Chevy Volt and BMW i3 REx can get in, just like the pure EVs, as can the Toyota Prius Prime and the Ford Fusion Energi. However, for these cars you actually have a choice — you can choose to pay the $200 “penalty” (see below) and get the AFV plate and HOV lane access, or you can choose NOT pay the penalty and be treated like a regular gas car no special HOV lane access rights. Essentially you can decide if the HOV perk is worth $200 a year to you.

Exactly which highways you can use it on

color-coded map of HOV lanes in metro Atlanta

color-coded map of HOV lanes in metro Atlanta

Until 2018, this was pretty easy to explain: an EV could get access to any of the HOV / HOT lanes in metro Atlanta.

Here are the HOV / HOT lanes where the EV perk does apply; colors refer to the sketch at right / above:

– HOV lanes on Downtown Connector (red); AFV plate required
– HOV lanes on I-75 and I-85 inside I-285 (red); AFV plate required
– HOV lanes on I-20 east of Downtown Connector (red); AFV plate required
– HOT lanes on I-85 outside I-285 northeast of Atlanta (green); AFV plate required AND PeachPass account and transponder required

The special case of I-75

In 2017-2018, the new express lanes on I-75 (both north and south of the city, in blue on the map) entered into service. Construction of those I-75 lanes did not use federal funds and were not required to offer a perk for EVs.

Please note the use of the term “express” above. The I-75 lanes are not HOV or HOT lanes. They are purely express lanes, and anyone can drive in them if they are willing to pay the fee posted on the electronic signs, using their PeachPass account and transponder. How many occupants are in the vehicle does not matter.

You can use a PeachPass account and transponder to pay for these I-75 lanes, but it gets complicated for EVs with AFV tags. If you have your account set up incorrectly, your account won’t get debited properly when you drive in an I-75 express lane, and you will get a ticket and will pay a $150 fine.

The upcoming cases of GA-400 and I-285

As of 2019, Georgia 400 and Interstate 285 are both getting overhauled and each have HOV lanes planned for them. Both projects received federal funds so one would think that they should have AFV exemptions, but we’re not sure until we see it.

PeachPass account setup details

For all this to work with EVs with AFV tags, you have to have your PeachPass account set up a certain way, and it depends on how you originally set it up and whether you also have gas / ICE cars in the household.

Here are the three PeachPass account possibilities and how they related to an AFV-tagged EV:

1. If you have a toll-exempt *account* you *cannot* use the I-75 express lanes! If you ever want to use the I-75 express lanes, you will need to first CALL into PeachPass and have them change your account type. Don’t expect that call to go quickly (so don’t call them as you are approaching the lanes, or even already in them), and you can not make this change from within the smartphone app.

Further, if you have a toll-exempt account you cannot use this transponder in other states that have similar electronic tolling systems, such as North Carolina and Florida.

2. If you have a regular account that PeachPass has locked to toll-exempt (via phone call), then you can use the I-85 HOT lanes and the I-75 lanes without touching anything, and it will automatically just work. When you use the I-75 express lanes, the PeachPass billing system ignores the toll-exempt setting for the account and bills you normally. However you can only use this entire account (and any transponders associated with it) with AFV tagged cars; you can’t have any ICE cars mixed in.

3. If you have a regular account (not locked to toll-exempt), then you need to change your transponder’s toll / non-toll mode to non-toll (assuming you have it in your AFV-tagged EV). When you use the I-75 express lanes, the PeachPass billing system ignores the non-toll mode for that transponder and bills you normally. If you have another transponder for an ICE car, you can set the toll mode on that transponder independently, depending on whether you have multiple people in the car or just one person, for use on I-85. This is the only way to do it if you have an ICE car in the mix.

You can use your account and transponder(s) in other states that offer similar electronic tolling systems, such as North Carolina and Florida. You just need to change your toll mode to regular tolling, not non-toll mode, before you use those express lanes. The EV perk that allows you to travel for free in these lanes does not carry beyond Georgia, so be sure to set your transponder to toll mode once you leave Georgia.

So now here are the HOV / HOT / express lanes identified on the map above, with the EV / AFV / PeachPass account implications:

Green = current I-85 HOT lanes. Free for AFV plates regardless of occupancy count as long as you’ve got a transponder in non-toll mode. Free for non-AFV plates if there are 3+ passengers in the car and you’ve switched your transponder to non-toll mode. Anything other than the above will be charged the rate posted on the electronic signs.

Red = regular HOV, inside the perimeter. You can ride single-occupant in these lanes if your car’s got an AFV plate. A PeachPass account/transponder is not required. If you don’t have AFV plates, then regular 2+ occupant rules apply.

Blue = I-75 express lanes. You must have a regular non-exempt PeachPass account to use these lanes regardless of AFV plate. Transponder mode toll/non-toll is not considered in these lanes — the billing system literally ignores it. You must either have a credit card associated with your Peach Pass account or have a positive balance remaining when using these lanes.

HOV access summary

By now your eyes have certainly glazed over. But fortunately the result of all this can be summarized as follows:

1. If you want to take advantage of the EV perk, you have to get an AFV tag.

2. Know the different HOV/HOT/express lanes in metro Atlanta. Some of them are free, some are not. Some require a PeachPass account and transponder, some do not.

3. When you set up your PeachPass account, set it up as a regular account, not a toll-exempt account. Then, for the transponder used in your electric car, set it to non-toll mode, using the PeachPass website or smartphone app.

4.  The newer I-75 express lanes aren’t free for EVs, but you don’t need to worry about changing the toll mode when driving in them.

Thanks to local EV owner Brian C. for helping to clarify this for me. – Chris

Georgia’s annual road-use fee / penalty for EVs

In the 2015 session, state legislators passed a mammoth transportation bill that killed the old $5000 state tax credit and added a new $200 annual fee for EV owners.

The “road use fee” for EVs applies to all pure EV registrations in Georgia, and is applied annually. The fee was $200 in 2015 but is inflation adjusted and is up to $213.69 as of July 2018. All pure EVs in Georgia must pay this fee, without exception. Range-extended EVs (e.g. Chevy Volt, BMW i3 REx) and plug-in hybrids (e.g. Toyota Prius plug-in, Ford Escape PHEV, Jeep models, SUVs from Audi, BMW and Volvo ) are given a choice: they can pay the $200 fee when they get an AFV tag (that gets them the HOV lane access described above), or they can choose not to get the AFV tag (and thus not get the HOV lane perk).

In theory this annual fee was to compensate for the fact that EVs don’t buy gasoline and therefore don’t pay for road maintenance, which is funded by state taxes on gasoline. However, EV owners have howled in protest over this because the $200 number they picked is wildly unfair. If you do the math, a comparable car’s annual gas usage results in $50-$85 in taxes paid, and most EV owners are perfectly willing to pay that kind of fee. But $200 is more than the worst pickup truck or SUV would pay in gas taxes, and those heavy vehicles do much more damage to the roads than a typical car. Further, the $200 collected actually does not go even into Georgia’s road maintenance budget, rather it passes into the  state’s general fund.

Every year since then, EV owners have tried to get the legislature to correct this error, however legislators refuse to touch it.  For now, the state of Georgia has the most EV-hostile and unfair ownership fee in the country.

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