Ensuring equitable electric vehicle charging infrastructure deployment in Los Angeles

Electrification of the passenger vehicle fleet is a major pillar of many local policies for transportation decarbonization. The City of Los Angeles is among the leaders in the transition, as demonstrated by its various incentives and programs to promote electric vehicles. However, this technology has not reached wider adoption in disadvantaged communities. This means populations that suffer most from economic, health, and environmental burdens such as poverty and pollution are often left behind in the green mobility future.

High upfront costs and the lack of charging infrastructure are some of the key concerns that can hinder equitable electric vehicle (EV) access. Survey data have shown that most EV buyers and those considering purchasing an EV generally have higher income and own single-family houses where it is possible to install home charging. Policies to address barriers, including the continuation and improvement of vehicle and infrastructure incentives for disadvantaged communities, will be key in making EVs affordable and convenient. They will also expand EV access to the mass majority of consumers beyond the early adopters.

In 2019, Los Angeles announced an aggressive goal for zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) penetration, targeting 80% of total vehicles registered by 2035 and 100% by 2050. The city also aims to install 28,000 public chargers by 2028. As of 2019, electric vehicle registrations were approximately 5% of total light-duty vehicles registered in the city. Thoughtful charging infrastructure deployment and incentive designs going forward will have big impacts on the EV market. Our recent white paper identifies opportunities for Los Angeles to guide future investment and highlights the necessity of engaging with disadvantaged communities to create tailored solutions for their transportation needs, especially in potential zero-emission areas.

Assessing the distribution of public charging infrastructure and the locations of disadvantaged communities identified by the CalEnviroScreen tool reveals gaps and opportunities for infrastructure deployment. As shown in the figure below, Los Angeles neighborhoods, including Central Hollywood, Downtown Los Angeles, Westchester/Playa, and West Los Angeles area, have approximately 20 to 100 public chargers each. Overall, about 45% of public charging infrastructure deployed through 2019 is located in disadvantaged communities, where nearly 50% of Los Angeles’ population resides. However, the distribution of public charging also shows that many disadvantaged communities did not receive a significant deployment of public chargers through 2019.

Figure. Public Level 2 and DC fast chargers and the CalEnviroScreen score across Los Angeles census tracts and potential ZEA sites.

This general trend of deploying charging in areas with heavier EV adoption is also seen across the country and has led to significant inequities in public charger access. Recognizing the disparity in public charger deployment, California has made an effort to encourage investments in public charging in disadvantaged communities. For instance, in August 2020, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) approved Southern California Edison’s $437 million proposal for an EV charging infrastructure program that would support the deployment of up to 38,000 new public chargers. The program plans to build a minimum of 50% of the make-ready infrastructure in disadvantaged communities, and at least 30% in multi-unit dwelling locations. Many more utility and charger deployment programs are following this equity-centered approach.

To achieve city goals of establishing zero-emission areas in specific communities, a comprehensive package of zero-emission mobility options is required to deliver affordable and reliable transportation choices. In the case of Los Angeles, many of their existing programs, such as vehicle and charger rebates from Charge up LA! and the electric car share company, Blue LA!, target different groups of consumers, provide more affordable access to EV and charging infrastructure, and increase awareness about EV technology. These programs have great potential to expand and can be modified to serve more disadvantaged communities. In addition, the scale of EV infrastructure growth can be reduced two to four times in these areas if there is a significant shift away from private vehicle ownership. To achieve this reduction in ownership, increased and equitable investment in low- and zero-emission public transportation is warranted. Providing funding for community engagement and outreach is also critical to complement all the policy design efforts.

It is essential for incentive and infrastructure programs to put equity as a central component to benefit disadvantaged communities that have historically been left out of transportation investments. California and many of its cities have prioritized equity consideration throughout many of its sustainable mobility strategies. Los Angeles stands a great example as one of the first cities in the United States to plan on zero-emission areas with equity-focused objectives and can share its experience with more states and cities during its planning and decision-making process. We are looking forward to seeing many equitable mobility solutions that Los Angeles will bring to the table.