NY bridge with traffic and city backdrop

Report | 2022

The DMV: An Unlikely Climate Champion

How the DMV Can Help Decarbonize America’s Transportation System

By Julia Thayne DeMordaunt, Karsten Moe, Rushad Nanavatty
Download the report below

For the United States to meet its climate goals, we will need to cut emissions from transportation, the single-largest sectoral carbon emitter, by 45 percent by 2030. This requires putting 70 million electric light-duty vehicles on the road and reducing our vehicle miles traveled by 20 percent in the next few years.

But how do we do that? No single policy will achieve these goals; we need to take advantage of all available tools and allies, even unexpected ones. In this report, we look at how an often-overlooked administrative infrastructure — America’s network of thousands of state and local departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) — could help align the cost of vehicle ownership with climate and equity goals.

Through a new innovative fee model, DMVs could structure vehicle title and annual registration fees to reflect vehicle characteristics that most affect the environment, infrastructure, and public safety. This proposed fee structure for personal vehicles could help:

  • Push more consumers to buy EVs in lieu of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles (especially the most heavily polluting ICE vehicles)
  • Encourage a shift toward public transit and mobility alternatives where these are quality options
  • Encourage ownership of smaller, lighter vehicles that take up less road space, are less resource-intensive to manufacture, and are safer for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Incentivize less driving on a per-vehicle basis by assessing road usage during vehicle registration renewals
  • Take an already significant revenue stream for departments of transportation and make it both bigger and more equitably sourced

This report outlines a proposed model and fee structure that DMVs could implement to help decarbonize the transportation sector. RMI’s analysis found that across the 22 most populous cities in the United States, this innovative DMV fee structure could boost EV adoption by 39 percent and decrease overall personal vehicle registration by 5 percent. The report also features a detailed case study that analyzes the impact this proposed model and fee structure could have in New York City. Download the report to learn more about how the DMV, a familiar institution and an established part of local government infrastructure, could be a huge climate ally.