LA is planning a more inclusive car share

A new electric vehicle pilot would provide access and savings to those who need it most.

While used EVs are an affordable option for clean transportation, this sector of the EV market is still developing. An EV car-share would grant immediate access to affordable, green vehicles to all types of residents. Next year, Los Angeles is planning to do just that. The city just won a $1.6 million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to put 100 car-share vehicles, at least 80 of which are electric, into low-income neighborhoods circling downtown L.A.

The project addresses both economic and environmental sustainability. Low-income families spend a higher percentage of their paychecks on transportation than wealthy families, but have limited access to car-sharing services, due to their location or the cost of membership. In addition, poor neighborhoods often suffer worse air pollution, but economic barriers make it hard to ditch old cars in favor of cleaner electric ones. The new car share plan provides better access to affordable car-sharing and a chance to improve local air quality.

The plan can also be attractive to car-share companies because it helps them ease into a new market. From the company’s point of view, it’s all about utilization: if the cars are used in the right numbers then it works financially. The environmental benefits could be massive. The smoggy, polluted neighborhoods will be able to cut out exhaust for a projected 7,000 drivers. The city estimates this can avoid the purchase of 1,000 gas-powered cars, eliminating 2,150 tons of CO2 emissions annually. If the pilot succeeds, the city will expand the service, increasing the carbon savings.

los angeles smog

Most importantly, this strategy accounts for the crucial economic dimensions of environmental justice. Too often, the green solutions that get written up and promoted cost too much to be accessible to low-income consumers. If sustainable consumption remains stratified with income, its benefits will be limited. Green technology prices tend to drop with time, to be sure, but it’s hard to tell just how long that will take. That creates the need for municipal governments and their industry allies to make this technology available for those who want it but can’t get it on their own. L.A. has found a powerful model for doing that, one that Baltimore and Washington, D.C  would do well to explore.