Wednesday 24 January 2024

Iceland and New Zealand: The first two countries to mandate road user charging for EVs

After many many years of others talking about it, one country has done it and another will soon follow.  On 1 January 2024, Iceland introduced mandated road user charging (RUC) for electric vehicles (EVs), Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs) and Hydrogen powered vehicles, and from 1 April New Zealand will also do so for EVs and PHEVs.


Iceland has launched EV RUC with a website called "Our Roads to the Future".  No later than 20 January 2024, eligible vehicles are required to have had their odometers read and recorded and transmitted to a government website or via a specific app. Those unable to use websites can go to an authorised service centre for an official reading.

The website indicates that the average petrol powered car pays ISK178,000 a year to use the roads (~US$1305) so the rate for EVs and hydrogen powered vehicles will be ISK6/km (US$0.044/km or US$0.07/mile), and for PHEVs at ISK2/km (US$0.015/km or US$0.024/mile). The lower fee for PHEVs reflect that they are still paying fuel excise for the use of petrol. Iceland presumably calculating that around two-thirds of kms driven by PHEVs is powered by petrol.

Iceland has indicated that this is a first step towards phasing out fuel taxes as a means of charging for road use, with the intention that RUC apply to all vehicles from 2025 (a distance-based tax already applies to some heavy vehicles). 

The reason given is the growing proportion of EVs and PHEVs in the vehicle fleet as illustrated by the graph below:

Proportion of private car fleet in Iceland with EVs or PHEVs

Furthermore, Iceland reports a 50% increase in distance travelled on its roads between 2012 and 2022, including a 36% increase in the number of registered cars.  On average vehicles are paying 30% less per vehicle in 2022 compared to 2012, because of the rise of EVs and PHEVs, as well as the emergence of more fuel efficient vehicles generally. 

In Iceland each vehicle owner will be invoiced monthly for distance travelled, which will be estimated based on the national average, until another odometer reading is reported after one year.  After that point motorists will be expected to supply more regular odometer readings.

Of interest is that the Icelandic Government has estimated that even after introduction of RUC, it will still be around ISK160,000 (US$1173) less per annum to drive an EV compared to an ICE vehicle, so that the impact of RUC on purchases of such vehicles is expected to be minimal. 

Some interesting stats from Iceland include:

  • 75% of owners of EVs and PHEVs are located in Reykjavik compared to 64% of the population
  • 64% of EV and 61% of PHEV owners are in the top three income deciles
  • The highest distances travelled by residents are in those located in municipalities immediately surrounding the Reykjavik metro area, lowest by those in more rural areas.  This contradicts some concerns that distance-based charges would unfairly penalise those in rural areas.
Iceland has a population of 373,000 but has one of the highest car ownership rates per capita in the world, with a road network of 12,898km. Iceland is moderately larger than South Korea and Hungary, and smaller than Bulgaria.

New Zealand

NZ has long had a RUC system that applies to heavy vehicles and light diesel vehicles (since 1978), but an exemption for EVs was introduced in 2009 and it was done on the basis that it would be lifted once EVs reached 2% of the light vehicle fleet (which has occurred).  Following the recent change of government in New Zealand from the centre-left Labour majority government to a centre-right National led coalition government, the newly appointed Minister of Transport, Hon. Simeon Brown had announced that RUC will apply to both EVs and PHEVs from 1 April. 

Owners of both types of vehicles will get a two-month grace period to buy a RUC licence, which are available prepaid in blocks of 1,000 of kilometres (e.g. a motorist might buy 1,000 or could buy 100,000 kms, although there is a time limit on RUC expiry in the event of a price increase).  The RUC rate for EVs will be the same as light diesel vehicle at NZ$0.076/km (US$0.046/km or US$0.074/mile), but the rate for PHEVs is NZ$0.053/km (US$0.032/km or US$0.052/mile).  This reflects a calculation that the majority of PHEV distance travelled in NZ is undertaken using electricity (with the difference made up from fuel excise duty paid through petrol).

Owners of both types of vehicles will need to take odometer readings after 1 April and will have subsequent odometer readings verified through annual Warrant of Fitness (WOF) (vehicle safety) checks.

At the end of 2023, there were around 73,000 EVs registered in NZ, and around 30,000 PHEVs.  RUC in NZ is administered by the NZ Transport Agency, which receives all RUC revenue to distribute to road controlling authorities and regional councils (and itself for maintenance and development of the state highway network) through the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).

New Zealand has a population of around 5.3 million, with one of the highest car ownership rates in the world. Its road network is around 97,000km long. New Zealand is larger than the UK and moderately smaller than Italy.

Similar to Iceland, New Zealand's government has also announced intention to phase out fuel tax as a means of charging for road use, although there is no timetable for that to be implemented. It is likely that following the EV and PHEV RUC introduction, that other ICE powered hybrids would be next to be transitioned to RUC.  That's because petrol hybrids will soon be paying the least of any cars on NZ roads, because their average fuel consumption is around half of the petrol vehicle average.

In NZ a cost-allocation model is used to inform the setting of RUC rates, based on forecasting revenues needs for the forward-looking expenditure in the NLTP, and allocating that based on various vehicle characteristics includes axle load, weight, road space occupancy, vehicle specific factors and on a flat per km basis (depending on the type of spending).  This informs setting of the entire schedule of RUC rates distinguished by weight band and axle configuration.  The light RUC rate is converted into the fuel excise duty rate for petrol, by basing it on the total vehicle kilometres travelled of petrol vehicles divided by the average fuel economy of all light petrol vehicles.  Fuel tax for petrol is then, on average, the same as RUC for light vehicles.  

As petrol hybrid vehicles generally have half the fuel consumption of the fleet average, they pay half as much as petrol vehicles per km, on average, and after 1 April 2024, they will be charged half as much as pure EVs and PHEVs.  It will be important for NZ to shift such vehicles onto RUC within the next few years.  


  1. Hi Scott - great to see this getting some attention (I see you're in Brisbane for a conference). The Australian Electric Vehicle Association has been advocating for a decade now in favour of a universal, federally collected, state-administered, mass X distance road user charge. We've argued that the fuel excise could be halved, but retained until such time that EVs outnumbered ICE vehicles, and reduced again before being eliminated.
    EVs would be subject to a weight penalty like any other vehicle, motivating buyers to buy lighter EVs, and manufacturers to make them.
    What interested me the most was the reality that country people don't drive as much as suburban drivers - a common complaint from those in the regions who think they're hard done by. Apart from the fact that fuel excise already accounts for how much they drive by virtue of every litre of fuel they burn, by and large, they just don't drive that much.
    Would love to catch up in other ways, perhaps a guest appearance on our webinar series?

  2. > (e.g. a motorist might buy 1,000 or could buy 100,000 kms, although
    > there is a time limit on RUC expiry in the event of a price increase).

    A minor point, but the time limit on RUC only applies for heavy vehicles.