The Best City Programs Promoting Electric Cars

State programs are important, but what can cities and towns do to accelerate a consumer switch to EVs?
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The Gardiner Expressway in central Toronto.
The Gardiner Expressway in central Toronto.

Co-authored with Hayley Hoverter

In just the last couple of weeks, there has been good news and bad news about state electric vehicle (EV) programs. Georgia decided to end its $5,000 consumer EV tax credit by this summer (so run out and buy one now if you live in the peach state!), and Illinois quietly cancelled its $4,000 EV rebate program. However, Massachusetts renewed its $1,500-2,500 EV consumer rebate program last week, and it looks like new state EV incentives might be coming down the pike in states like Oregon and Rhode Island.

Baltimore National Drive Electric Week event in Sept. 2014. Photo credit: Mark Czajka.

State programs are important, but what can cities and towns do to accelerate a consumer switch to EVs?

I was recently approached by Marc McGovern, one of my own city councilors, to explore what Cambridge, MA can do. A lot, I told him, and he filed a resolution asking the city manager to look into options. His fellow City Councilor Leland Cheung has expressed interest in promoting EVs to Cantabrigians too. I'm looking forward to what they will achieve. Here are some models for them and others to consider:

City Fleets

EVs save communities fueling and maintenance costs in addition to reducing pollution. This is why New York City has integrated more than 600 plug-in electric vehicles into its fleet of Fire, Sanitation, and Parks & Recreation Department vehicles. Smaller cities are getting in the game too; Somerville, Massachusetts is adding 16 EVs to its municipal fleet. In February, Seneca, South Carolina announced that it logged over 100,000 miles with six electric Proterra buses, the only all-electric transit bus fleet in the country.

Registration and Parking Incentives

What would prevent EV owners from having to go an extra mile to find parking? Since 2005, New Haven, Connecticut has provided free metered parking for hybrids and EVs. Cincinnati EV drivers get free parking at any meter in the city and at two city-owned parking garages. Warren, Rhode Island and Washington, DC offer their residents with plug-in cars an excise tax exemption and reduced registration.

Public Charging Stations

In February, Jacksonville, Florida unveiled Chargewell, a program setting up 30 charging stations throughout the city through a partnership with the N. Florida Transportation Planning Organization and the Jacksonville Electric Authority. Austin, Texas provides unlimited charging for under $5 a month at over 170 public charging stations. Last summer, Palo Alto, California passed an ordinance that requires all new apartments, commercial buildings, and hotels to have charging stations.

Public Education

We have yet to see a fantastic EV website put out by a city or town (please share if you know of a good one). But many mayors have been getting behind EVs by attending and promoting EV awareness events, like at National Drive Electric Week activities last September when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles were among many mayors who issued 'drive electric' proclamations. Portland, Oregon's Electric Avenue, the city's program that partnered with Portland State University to provide EV charging stations, raised public awareness by holding a ribbon cutting with the mayor and staging a flash mob. Their efforts paid off - the program was featured in more than 200 news stories.

The Road Ahead

A new report from the journal Nature shows that a switch to EVs actually helps cool cities down by not producing heat that builds up in traffic jams. That, in turn, reduces the need for air conditioning, a major energy sucker. It's more important now than ever that our mayors, city councilors, and other community leaders aren't just taking a backseat, but are driving the acceleration for EVs. Tell us: what is happening to promote EVs in your own local community?

Gina Coplon-Newfield directs the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicles Initiative. Hayley Hoverter is a Sierra Club intern and Dartmouth College student.

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