In the first quarter of 2023, electric vehicle (EV) sales increased by about 45% year-over-year, reaching a record quarter for the U.S. market and setting a pace for annual EV sales to surpass a million vehicles sold this year. Yet, similar to other technological changes such as broadband or infrastructure, systemic barriers remain as the nation strives to lay the groundwork for future EV universal adoption. With more drivers exploring the reality of EV ownership comes a need to accelerate the buildout of equitable charging infrastructure.
The gradual shift from gas to electric will bring monumental changes to the way communities operate. By learning from mistakes of the past and charting an inclusive path forward, local leaders can ensure disadvantaged and underserved communities are top of mind, rather than left in the dust.
The world’s largest car rental provider, Enterprise Holdings, engaged local governments in Columbia, SC, Houston, TX and St. Louis, MO through the NLC Capstone Challenge to understand how cities can develop equitable EV policies, programs and charging investment strategies to meet the mobility needs of underserved communities. What followed was the Equitable Electric Mobility Playbook—a resource for policymakers and their stakeholders to recognize how an inequitable landscape can impact historically marginalized communities and explore ways to accelerate electric mobility adoption within their own communities.
While there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation to scale EV adoption equitably and enhance access to public charging, the study found three actions were critical to moving local electric mobility initiatives toward more equitable outcomes:
Fill the charging gap. There are currently a little over 130,000 public charging points across the country — typically concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods where owners often have access to home charging. Yet, many socially vulnerable communities, travelers, and Uber/Lyft drivers have limited garage access. To help bridge the great EV charging gap, cities should prioritize public infrastructure investments where charging can be shared across land uses.
Partner with state and federal agencies to unlock equity-focused EV funding and programs. Funding and legislation are integral for improved EV adoption and charger deployment as well as equitable electric mobility. The public and private sector should work together to ensure policies meet the diverse mobility needs of all residents. For example, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the initial round of $2.5 billion in competitive grants to support community initiatives and increase EV charging in underserved communities was announced in March. The program is a key funding opportunity program for cities’ community charging infrastructure.
Collaborate with utilities to remove grid barriers. Momentum is gaining with utility companies—with partners like Ameren Missouri paving the way—but more focus should be placed on centering equity and establishing clear definitions/metrics for universal access. To allow for public charging, communities will benefit by collaborating with utility companies to upgrade their grids to prepare for charging depots, transit and freight charging, and supercharging stations.
Cities across the country have the necessary tools to build an equitable electric mobility landscape the right way, but public and private sectors will need to be intentional and strategic about their EV policies and investments to break down the many barriers that exist today. By starting this work now, public and private partners can build a future of electric mobility for everyone.
Author: Chris Tabourne, Vice President of Strategic Diversity Initiatives for Enterprise Holdings.