Is Electric Car Sharing the Future of City Transportation?

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Consider the hurdles Los Angeles faces in making citywide transportation greener and electric vehicles more accessible to low-income residents: Only one-quarter of trips are made on foot, on bike, or on mass transit in the city. Meanwhile, snarling traffic and runaway greenhouse gas emissions hamper mobility and keep residents of the poorest neighborhoods shrouded in smog. A much as they might want a Tesla or even a modest EV, the price tag is too high. Besides, where would those living in multifamily housing charge their cars?

Enter the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with a car-sharing program that addresses most of these issues in a single broad stroke. CARB announced it awarded $1.7 million in grant money to double car sharing in LA with 100 EVs and hybrids as well as 110 new Level 2 charging stations in communities designated among the 10% most in need.

According to CARB, over 7,000 Angelenos in working-class communities will have access to the car sharing program, bringing them the opportunity to utilize zero-emissions vehicles and improve personal mobility while keeping new cars off the road. The innovative program is part of California’s mission to increase electric vehicle adoption to 1.5 million cars by 2025 and cut oil use in half by 2030, noted in a release by State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon, a champion of green car initiatives.

Despite the EV purchase incentive available in California — in addition to federal tax credits of $7,500 — the cost of new electric vehicles remains near $20,000, which is impossible to afford for lower-income Angelenos. As a result, gas-guzzling used cars are far more likely to be seen in their neighborhoods, creating poor air conditions and adding more vehicles to an already maxed-out traffic grid.

Affordable car sharing operating with a fleet electric vehicles provides the type of solution studies say can have a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions in a high-pollution city like LA.

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A Berkeley Lab study released in July found big cities could reduce auto emissions by 94% by creating a transportation system run by autonomous cars with electric powertrains. By eliminating the single-passenger vehicle concept, traffic patterns free up for improved mobility while emissions levels plummet. The study found this system could be in place as early as 2030.

California has that same year earmarked as the date to have petroleum use cut by half citywide, but it will take a green vehicle campaign that spans all income brackets in order to become a reality. For every Tesla and BMW i3 on LA streets, there are thousands of gasoline cars and trucks, and the latter are what low-income Angelenos can afford.

This grant will help California continue to even out the distribution of electric vehicles from the communities housing the top 1% to those on the opposite end of the spectrum. Earlier in July, CARB approved a shift in the state’s EV rebates, eliminating eligibility for individuals earning $250,000 or more while increasing the rebate to $4,000 for the poorest California residents. (Combined with the federal credit, $11,500 could be taken off the sticker price.)

With the awarding of grant money to bring EV car sharing to poor LA neighborhoods, CARB is addressing issues with mobility, electric vehicle adoption, air quality, and vehicle access for more Angelenos. If you drew up a blueprint for a better, greener transportation system in urban centers of the future, this program would check just about every box.

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