Ensuring an Equitable Electric Vehicle Future

Bye Oil

A common misconception is that Teslas are the only electric vehicles (EVs) available. This leads to the perception that EVs are only accessible to the rich and should not be considered as a decarbonizing transportation solution because they are not equitable.

However, many state and local governments and agencies and nonprofit organizations have put policies and programs in place to ensure that a transition to electric vehicles is just and accessible for all. States interested in encouraging equitable access to EVs should especially look to look to California as an example.

California offers a rebate to all new EV buyers. If a person falls below a certain income level, they are eligible for an additional $2,000 rebate when they choose to purchase a new EV. However, not all low-income drivers can buy new cars, so assistance with buying used cars is also necessary. Used EVs are often cost comparable with used gas-powered vehicles. [1]

The Enhanced Fleet Modernization  Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP) aims to help low-income Californians replace older, higher-emitting cars with cleaner used cars. In exchange for their older cars, low-income Californians can earn a rebate voucher that they can apply towards purchasing a new or used lower-emitting vehicle.

The amount rebated increases depending on the fuel efficiency of the replacement car, with fully electric cars qualifying for the highest possible rebate. [2]

Since the EFMP was implemented, more than half of the cars retired were replaced by plug-in vehicles, demonstrating that this program has helped low-income residents switch fuel inefficient cars for electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

California has also encouraged expanding access to expanding access to charging infrastructure in low-income communities to ensure that residents that drive EVs have easy access to fueling options. Several utilities have received millions of dollars in grants to invest in expanding charging infrastructure specifically in low-income neighborhoods.

Some utilities have also committed to installing certain percentages of chargers in low-income neighborhoods, so these neighborhoods are not left behind as charging infrastructure expands. [3]

Nonprofit organizations like VELOZ and Forth aim to increase awareness about the benefits of driving EVs, especially among low-income communities. These organizations have conducted test drives specifically for low-income residents in their neighborhoods to show that they are viable options for them. [4]

VELOZ, in particular, is focusing at least 35 percent of its outreach and awareness efforts on low-income areas to accelerate electrification and encourage access to electrified transportation in low-income and disadvantaged communities. [5]

Finally, local governments often participate in outreach events, which can include “announcements by local officials, ribbon-cuttings for new public charging stations, charging station giveaways, ride-and-drives, and technology demonstrations,” according to Peter Slowik and Nic Lutsey of the International Council on Clean Transportation.  These events effectively raise awareness and increase familiarity, and are often held specifically in low-income neighborhoods.

There is a legitimate concern that massive adoption of EVs at the rate that the climate crisis requires will leave low-income communities behind, even though they are the most susceptible to the negative effects of climate change and unhealthy air. [6] While nonprofits and local governments, especially in California, have shown that common sense policies can encourage EV adoption by all, it will take concerted focus to ensure a just electrified transportation future.


[1] Paul Jennings, Principal at PCS Energy, Interview, November 7, 2018.

[2] Elise Keddie, Manager of Zero Emissions Vehicle Implementation Section at California Air Resources Board, Interview, December 26, 2018.

[3] Aayushi Jain, Manager of Market Transformation at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, Interview, November 13, 2018.

[4] Zach Henkin, Deputy Director at Forth, Interview, December 12, 2018.

[5] Josh Boone, Founding Executive Director of VELOZ, Interview, December 5, 2018.

[6] Javier Valdez, Washington State House Representative of the 46th District, Interview, December 19, 2018.

This blog is part of a seven-part series on electric vehicles:

Nicole Larson

Former Research Assistant
Nicole graduated from Pomona College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Policy Analysis focusing in Environmental Analysis. She wrote her senior thesis on policy mechanisms to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. Nicole worked as a Project Development Intern at OneEnergy Renewables, where she gained experience working to decarbonize the electricity grid developing large-scale and community solar projects. She also worked on decarbonizing transportation as an intern at Los Angles Cleantech Incubator...
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