Expanding access to electric mobility in the United States

Published: 2017.12.06

Peter Slowik, Michael Nicholas

This briefing summarizes policies and actions that are expanding access to electric transportation in the United States. We showcase several examples of equity-focused electric mobility practices that are encouraging their utilization more widely. Practices that support electric vehicle adoption and broaden access to electric mobility are included. The briefing concludes with five summary reflections:

A growing number of policies and programs that are intended to expand access to electric mobility are emerging in pockets across the United States. Access to electrified mobility is not equal across population groups. A handful of early actions are beginning to emerge that work to broaden electric vehicle access by increasing affordability, practicality, and awareness. Much of this early action has been concentrated in California, where strong state policy has ensured a portion of programs and investments directly benefit communities with greater socioeconomic and environmental burdens. Additional early innovative actions to expand the electric vehicle market were also identified in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and select areas in the Northeast. Policy actions along these lines can expand access to electric vehicles across market segments that have lagged.

More work is needed to expand access to electric mobility and will require coordinated and targeted actions by a range of players. One action or one sector is not sufficient to effectively increase access to electric mobility. Simply lowering the cost to buy an electric vehicle may not be effective if consumers are not aware of the products offered. Similarly, lower cost for a vehicle does not guarantee that a user can charge at home or in public. Multiple solutions must be pursued simultaneously for greatest effect. Leading states, cities, utilities, nonprofit groups, and other stakeholders are beginning to lower barriers to electric mobility for the broader market. New and strengthened policies and initiatives are needed to expand the market—programs such as consumer purchase incentives, infrastructure deployment, local mobility services, awareness campaigns, utility policy, and other local actions that target low-income, MuDs, underserved communities, and other consumer groups beyond early adopters.

Strong community engagement from local groups, including governments, nonprofit organizations, and community institutions, is needed to understand challenges and identify solutions. Each of the policies and actions identified in this briefing may not be appropriate for all communities. Understanding the transportation needs of target communities is crucial to identifying what policies and actions are needed and how to execute them. Many communities face heightened cost, convenience, and/or awareness barriers to electric vehicle adoption. The solutions needed to expand electric vehicle access differ across communities, and robust community engagement can more effectively identify solutions. Resources from nonprofit organizations such as The Greenlining Institute and TransForm provide additional context and considerations when designing and implementing programs in underserved communities, including community engagement, outreach, infrastructure, insurance, payment options, and other considerations for equitable program design.

Outreach to improve awareness and understanding is needed to complement efforts to expand the market. We identified several actions that work to improve electric vehicle affordability and practicality for the broader market, yet awareness remains a key barrier. Initiatives such as low-income rebates and scrappage programs, EVSE incentives for MuD residents, curbside charging programs, electric carsharing and ridesharing fleets, and low utility rate structures could be supported and enhanced through community outreach. Raising awareness of these types of emerging initiatives is likely needed to increase their usage.

Expanding electric mobility access to underserved communities has significant and direct social, economic, and health benefits for residents in these communities. The early actions discussed in this briefing are helping to make electric transportation more affordable and practical. They also are helping provide associated social, environmental, health, and economic benefits to resident populations who have so far not engaged fully in the electric vehicle market including low-income residents, apartment dwellers, and underserved communities. Action now helps advance the timeline for development in these groups and aids in the transition to zero emission transportation.