The transportation sector has been the largest CO2 producer in the United States since 2017 when it surpassed power generation, a sector which reduced CO2 emissions through the switch from coal to natural gas and growth in renewables. Transportation is currently responsible for 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with a majority coming from light-duty vehicles, including passenger cars, SUVs and minivans.
The importance of accelerating adoption of electric vehicles for achieving national and state decarbonization goals is clear. However, increasing equitable access to EV technology poses challenges. Upfront vehicle purchase costs, for example, can be a significant barrier to EV ownership in lower income households, but there are many other avenues for advancing equity and helping disadvantaged communities to realize environmental and other benefits afforded by EVs.
In nearly every American city and county, buses are the most-used form of public transit. The vast majority still run on diesel fuel, releasing carbon emissions and particulate pollution that contributes to poor health outcomes, particularly for people of color who, studies show, contend with high levels of air pollution.
The advantages of municipal and school bus electrification are becoming increasingly recognized by cities throughout the United States, with many large municipalities announcing goals for full electrification of public transit. The cities of Los Angeles and Denver, for example, have goals of 100% electric public transit by 2030 and 2050, respectively. And the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced plans to increase its procurement for electric buses in 2021 from 45 to 60—a 33% increase, as part of the MTA’s mission to transform its 5,800 buses to a zero-emissions fleet by 2040. Electric bus companies Proterra and BYD have forged strong partnerships with municipalities and energy utilities to advance adoption of electric buses.
Electrification of school buses is an equally important initiative for disadvantaged communities, as nearly all of the approximately 480,000 public school buses in the United States are exclusively fueled by diesel. To this end, a bill was recently introduced in the House and Senate called the “Clean Commute for Kids Act,” which would provide $25 billion over 10 years to replace diesel school buses with electric, zero-emission buses. The program would be run by the Environmental Protection Agency, and it would prioritize communities that suffer disproportionately from low air quality, including low-income communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color.
Aside from the environmental benefits, electric buses can provide significant economic benefits because of reduced maintenance and fuel costs, especially in high-mileage use cases. To offset procurement costs, which can be as much as fifty percent higher, there is federal and state funding available, such as the Federal Transportation Administration’s $182 million Low or No Emission Vehicle Program. One recipient, the State of Connecticut Department of Transportation, will match the grant with state funds to purchase ten battery electric buses and ten DC fast chargers. This equipment will create the first 100% battery electric bus transit fleet for the City of Waterbury, a city with a 24% poverty rate. Electric school buses also have the ability to be leveraged for vehicle-to-grid initiatives, enabling districts to earn income from buses predominantly parked during summer months while helping to relieve strain on the energy grid.
Ride Sharing Programs
Electric vehicle ride-sharing programs are increasing throughout the country, as municipalities see them as a way to increase EV access in communities that shoulder the heaviest pollution burdens, and whose residents are least able to afford an EV purchase. For example, the city of Boston recently launched Good2Go, an electric vehicle car-share program with sliding scale rates designed to support affordable access to clean transportation in Roxbury, the center of Boston’s Black community, which faces disproportionate environmental issues. Other notable ride-sharing programs include Denver’s Colorado CarShare, a non-profit with a focus on transportation equity and reducing carbon emissions, and St. Louis Vehicle Electrification Rides for Seniors (SiLVERS), a recently launched fleet of light-duty EVs and charging infrastructure operated by social service agencies in low-income communities with limited access to clean vehicle technologies.
A public charging network is essential for widespread equitable access to ownership of electric vehicles, by making it possible for people who rent or live in multi-family housing to charge an electric vehicle. However, as private charging companies tend to build infrastructure where EVs are the most prevalent, disadvantaged communities are underserved. This was illustrated by the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment Assessment conducted by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in December 2020. The study found the fewest total chargers per capita in low-income areas and the most in high-income communities. New York City’s borough of The Bronx, which has a population of 1.4 million with a median household income of just $40,000, is another “charger desert,” with only 17 EV charging stations.
To address these imbalances, legislation has been introduced this year to further EV equity. The Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act directs the Department of Energy to expand access to electric vehicle charging in underserved communities by establishing an Electric Vehicle Charging Equity Program to create 200,000 charging stations nationwide in underserved communities by 2030, and undertaking a number of actions to assess the challenges, pinpoint areas of greatest need and incentivize and increase EV charging infrastructure deployment in underserved and disadvantaged communities.
Funding for charger installations for electric vehicles in areas of need is also on the rise. Some recent examples include: the California Energy Commission’s commitment of $384 million over three years to install battery charging stations in underserved locations, with half of that focused on low-income communities; New York State’s $750 million program to build over 50,000 charging stations, with about a quarter of that funding earmarked for low-income communities; and AEP Ohio’s $10 million incentive program to offset the cost of installing EV chargers at apartment buildings, workplaces, and local government buildings, ten percent of which will be in lower-income communities.
HomeServe, a leading provider of solutions to enhance efficiency and safety for co-op members, is partnering with AEP to install public level-2 chargers in lower-income communities and to provide turnkey installations of electric vehicle chargers for homeowners. For more information about available solutions, contact us.