EV Access Needs to Be Equitable to Meet California Goals

If the state is to reach its ambitious goal of having 5 million to 7 million electric vehicles on the highways and roadways in the next decade, underserved communities will have to be part of the adoption strategy.

by / March 24, 2020
Shutterstock/TierneyMJ

Disadvantaged and communities of color are perfectly poised for electric car adoption, experts say, but they have to be targeted and engaged first.

In California, where advocates and regulators are pushing to have at least 5 million electric vehicles on the state roadways in the next decade, inclusive efforts are not just a matter of equity and are more a matter of necessity.

“If we’re going to get to 5 million EVs… we have to be intentional, and so we have to really think about what we’re doing, in terms of education and outreach,” said Shelley Francis, co-founder of EVNoire, an advocacy organization promoting next-gen mobility options like electric vehicles. 

“We really have to make sure that we’re engaging diverse communities — black and brown communities — and communities that are impacted by air pollution,” she added, speaking during a panel discussion as part of the annual Veloz forum earlier this month in Sacramento. Veloz is a Sacramento-based electric vehicle advocacy group.

Too often, electric vehicles have been viewed as transportation for more economically advantaged drivers, say industry insiders and advocates. However, as their price parity with gas-powered cars narrows and is combined with state and federal rebates, the cars are being seen as ideal for all drivers. The fact that they are cheaper to run than gasoline-powered vehicles will make them a more attractive option for lower-income households.

If policymakers are to remove barriers to EV adoption among underserved communities, part of this process is making incentives easier to understand and apply for, said Terea Macomber, electric vehicle project director for GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocating for clean, renewable energy in low-income areas and communities of color.

“If we can go into communities… and say, we have this incentive program, but there’s all these other incentive programs that you can take advantage of with one application, we’re going to reach our goals a lot faster,” said Macomber, speaking at the forum.

“The way that we build programs, the way that we implement programing is so important, not just the policy that creates these programs,” Macomber added.

The further adoption of EVs — across all income sectors — will ultimately help the most disadvantaged by improving air quality and job creation, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

The EV sector employs some 275,000 residents in California, with 120,000 of those in Southern California, Tyler Laferriere, an economist with the Institute for Applied Economics at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., told forum attendees.

“These are good paying jobs,” said Laferriere, noting the industry is expected to grow 13 percent in the state in the coming years. It should be noted this jobs outlook was presented prior to the rapid economic slowdowns brought on by the novel coronavirus crisis.

“This intersection between affordability, transportation, housing, equity, and good jobs is something that I think will lead to our greater success,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary for environmental protection with the California Environmental Protection Agency. “To the extent that we pay short service to those, we will get crosswise with communities that have incredibly legitimate claims of worrying about their future and how electric vehicles fit in with them.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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