In many areas, poor residents typically have longer commutes and less access to public transportation than middle- and upper-class communities, yet they’re being excluded from the growing car-share trend.
But that gap may at least begin to close in Los Angeles.
Across the U.S. people earning between $5,000 and $30,000 a year spend about a quarter of their household income on transportation. Though car-sharing programs can help low-income individuals greatly cut down on travel costs and gas emissions, these companies typically don’t cater to poorer neighborhoods since the profit potential isn’t there, Streets Blog USA points out.
But Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), a public interest group, realized how much potential these programs can have in low-income neighborhoods, so it’s helping to bring shared transportation to poor parts of L.A.
SUMC partnered with California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the City of Los Angeles to launch a three-year pilot that will bring about 100 electric and hybrid car-sharing vehicles to disadvantaged areas in and around Central L.A.
The goal is to recruit 7,000 users who will, as a result, sell or avoid buying 1,000 private vehicles altogether, according to a press release.
That alone will help reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 2,150 metric tons of CO2.
The program secured $1.6 million in funding in state cap-and-trade revenues.
SUMC will help move the program along by selecting vehicle locations, creating pricing structures and building support among local stakeholders and community organizations.
“Too often, the shiny new green solutions that get written up and promoted cost too much to be accessible to low-income consumers,” Julian Spector wrote in City Lab.
But while environmentalists laud the mission, identifying a sustainable business model will be critical to keeping the program afloat.
Buffalo CarShare, a nonprofit car-share program in upstate New York, was forced to close its doors in June.
Half of its members had a household income of $25,000 or less and were able to reserve vehicles by the hour at an affordable rate.
It was a lifeline for many clients who otherwise wouldn’t have a means to get around.
One member who had breast cancer and was living on a fixed income said Buffalo CarShare was critical in enabling her to go to doctors’ appointments and run errands. She couldn’t afford a car or to rent through one of the major name-brand companies.
“You gave us an inexpensive way to live our life without hurting us financially,” the woman, who declined to reveal her name, wrote in a blog post.
But the nonprofit was forced to shut down because its insurance company said the state law made it too risky to cover the car-sharing organization, WGRZ reported.
It was absorbed by a for-profit company and hopes it will be able to still remain an independent entity.
"Everyone deserves affordable and innovative transportation, not just the wealthy," Mike Galligano, executive director, wrote in a blog post while trying to save the group. "Why is there no car-sharing services in cities like Cleveland, Syracuse, and others like Buffalo? Easy -- because for-profit companies do not see the financial benefit in serving these cities."