Putting Low-Income Drivers Behind the Wheel of Electric Cars

A first-of-its-kind car-sharing program will give residents of Los Angeles’ neglected neighborhoods access to carbon-free transportation.
(Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
Jul 31, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

Electric vehicles have helped people save money and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. But for those with less cash to spare, those benefits have been largely out of reach.

Now, a first-of-its-kind E.V. car-sharing program in Los Angeles aims to put the city’s low-income residents—some of whom have to walk a mile to the closest bus stop—behind the wheel of convenient and carbon-free transportation.

“It will help improve the lives of every Angeleno in these neighborhoods by offering them options they don’t have,” said Matt Petersen, Los Angeles’ chief sustainability officer. “The program will advance Los Angeles’ goals of clean air, use of mass transit, and increased access to mass transit.”

The $1.6 million state-funded program is part of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s sustainability plan, an ambitious effort that seeks to improve environmental health in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods by 2025. Funding comes from the proceeds of California’s carbon cap-and-trade program.

The program, part of the state’s Charge Ahead initiative, will put 80 to 100 electric cars on the road sometime next year and build electric vehicle charging stations in the working-class neighborhoods of Westlake, Pico Union, Boyle Heights, and Koreatown. Making the cars available for up to 7,000 drivers will eliminate the potential purchase of 1,000 gas-powered cars and 2,150 tons of CO2 emissions a year, Petersen said.

Anyone will be able to use the cars by paying a membership fee and hourly rates. Those who meet specific income requirements—still to be determined—will receive a discount. Carpoolers will pay less than solo drivers.

The service wants to benefit Angelenos such as Rosa, a Mexican immigrant and Koreatown resident who walks a mile to take the bus for her daily trip to the grocery store, according to Brady Collins, the development associate for Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, a neighborhood nonprofit organization.

“Just a few months ago, Rosa showed me a notebook with about 1,000 signatures she collected,” Collins said. “She wanted to petition Metro to get a bus stop closer to where residents live.”

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KIWA—which organizes campaigns for the benefit of the neighborhood’s predominantly Latino, Korean, Bangladeshi, and African American community—is one of the community groups advising the city on how to implement the car-sharing program.

Koreatown’s poverty rate is three times higher than the Los Angeles County average, and many residents rely on public transportation to get to jobs across town, Collins said.

“For example, a number of Koreatown residents are domestic care workers and may need to get to Beverly Hills on the west side of L.A.,” he said. “In those situations, it could take an hour and a half to two hours on the bus, whereas in a car it could take 25 minutes.”

Though added access to a car may speed up resident commutes, Petersen believes that in many cases, residents will use the car-sharing program to get to crosstown rapid transit bus lines more quickly.

“This gives them a lower-cost option to meet their needs in situations that can only be served through a vehicle,” he said. “It helps provide options for the last-mile and first-mile connections with mass transit.”