As gas prices skyrocketed across the country these past few months, so has the conversation surrounding electric vehicles (EVs). Congress recently passed the 1.7 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, with nearly 7.5 billion of it allocated towards building out America’s EV charging network. Now more than ever, people are looking for alternatives to their gas vehicles and considering EVs to decrease their carbon footprint. With the urgency of climate change informing how cities transition to greener infrastructure, EVs are increasingly becoming a viable solution for citizens and cities worldwide. This newly increased interest in EVs has led to cities planning and redesigning communities to accommodate the growing consumer market. According to a 2021 annual report by Blastpoint, although COVID-19 decreased the sales of vehicles overall, EV sales increased in some parts of the country by more than 30%.
- Lack of charging infrastructure. Although public perception of EVs is steadily warming up, there is still a steep hill for public and private agencies, as well as cities to climb if they want people to fully commit to a greener way of driving. The lack of charging infrastructure and the need for publicly available charging in disadvantaged communities and rural corridors must be at the forefront of EV adoption. As it stands, there are only about 45,000 charging stations, and 115,000 public and private charging outlets in the U.S., with a considerable amount of them in California. And even within cities that have a considerable amount of charging stations, the majority are in neighborhoods where the median income is substantially higher.
- Lack of accessibility for rural communities. Communities in rural areas also come with their own set of barriers to EV adoption. Rural commuters often drive longer distances and may need more access to at home charging rather than publicly available charging in higher density cities. However, installing and maintaining EV charging stations along the U.S.’s rural corridors is essential to completing the charging network, and assuage the range distance anxiety that a lot of EV drivers feel due to the lack of stations when taking longer trips.
- Lack of accessibility for persons with disabilities. There is also an accessibility issue when it comes to the design of electric cars due to the battery pack being installed under the floor bed of the vehicle, raising it inches higher than the standard gas-powered car. This can make it difficult for wheelchair users, or those with physical disabilities to easily maneuver in and out of the vehicle. A small adjustment in design could mean millions of Americans could have access to the EV market that previously did not.
- Lack of visibility of EVs keeps confidence levels down. Municipalities should also include the electrification of transit buses, street sweepers, and other commercial fleet vehicles to increase EV visibility on the roads. If potential customers see EVs being integrated into the city landscape, along with more charging stations, this builds confidence and increases the likeliness that they will commit to an electric car knowing that there is infrastructure built to support them.
True Potential for Electric Vehicles
If cities plan with a data centered, equity framework for EV charging stations and EV marketing, there is a unique opportunity for cities to address the inequities the greener efforts of EVs by leveraging high quality data. Understanding how communities use their transportation networks and analyzing activity-based travel modes will be a powerful tool when the transitioning to the EV model. Overlaying these insights with other demographics, such as income, mobility, and road quality will be powerful metrics of design for EV infrastructure in both cities and rural areas.
Transportation analytics can also be used to optimize and select the best site location for EV charging stations, to not only increase EV exposure, but to ensure that there are no charging deserts. Additionally, integrating big data analytics can help to better estimate the load on the electric grid that EVs are having depending on the time of day, which is critical for assessing installation and operating costs.
By leveraging powerful analytical tools, we can be sure that the transition to greener infrastructure targets communities who are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality and includes them in the planning process. Both private and public agencies will have to prioritize increasing the awareness and exposure about EV technology and green technology if equitable and inclusive deployment of EVs will be successful. Implementing inclusive mobility initiatives like Volkswagen, to ensure its EVs are ADA accessible, or developing a designated national network of Clean Cities Coalitions like the Department of Energy are examples of inclusive and equitable green planning. Partnership and collaborations with companies like EVHybridnoire, who are focusing on Black and Brown communities to diversify the E-mobility consumer market are imperative when designing inclusive solutions for electric mobility.
Here at ESI Center for Future Cities, we understand that transitioning to an EV future means planning for everyone and being intentional about inclusivity from the start. The longevity and sustainability of a nationwide EV network means cross collaboration between the private sector, policy, data, and underserved communities in order create greener streetscapes that everyone can benefit from.
Kendra Hills | [email protected]
Kendra Hills is an intern at Econsult Solutions supporting ESI’s Center for the Future of Cities. She is currently a Master’s student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying city & regional planning with a concentration in smart cities.