Renters face the pricing dilemma as US cities shift to electric vehicles

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) – Stephanie Terrell bought a used Nissan Leaf this fall and was excited to join the wave of electric vehicle drivers to save on gas money and reduce her carbon footprint.

But Terrell quickly ran into an obstacle on the road on her journey to clean driving: As a renter, she doesn’t have a private garage where she can recharge overnight, and public charging stations near her are often in use, with long waits at times. . On a recent day, the 23-year-old nearly ran out of power on the freeway because a public charging station she counted on was busy.

“It was really scary and I was really worried about not making it, but luckily I made it here. Now I have to wait a couple of hours just to use it because I can’t go any further, ”he said as he waited at another station where half a dozen electric vehicle drivers circled the parking lot, waiting their turn. “I feel better than buying gas, but there are problems that I didn’t really expect.”

The big transition to electric vehicles is underway for single-family homeowners who can charge their car at home, but for millions of renters like Terrell, access to charging remains a significant obstacle. People who rent are also more likely to buy used electric vehicles with a shorter range than newer models, which makes reliable public charging even more critical for them.

Now, cities from Portland to Los Angeles to New York City are trying to find innovative solutions for public charging as drivers put power cables on sidewalks, install their own private charging stations on the city’s rights of way, and line up in public facilities.

Last month, the Biden administration approved plans for all 50 states to deploy a high-speed charger network along interstate highways coast-to-coast using $ 5 billion in federal funding over the next five years. But states must wait to apply for an additional $ 2.5 billion in local subsidies to close the pricing gaps, even in low- and moderate-income urban areas and neighborhoods with limited private parking.

“Right now we have a really big challenge in making it easy for people living in apartments to charge,” said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a nonprofit that advocates equity in electric vehicle ownership and l access to recharge.

“There is a mental shift that cities need to make to understand that promoting electric cars is also part of their sustainable transport strategy. Once they make that mental shift, there’s a lot of very tangible things they can – and should – do. “

The fastest place to charge is a fast charger, also known as DC Fast. Those load a car in 20-45 minutes. But slower chargers that take several hours, known as Level 2, outnumber DC fast chargers by nearly four to one, though their number is growing. Charging an electric vehicle on a standard residential outlet, or level 1 charger, is impractical unless you drive little or can leave the car plugged in overnight, as many homeowners do.

Nationwide, there are approximately 120,000 public charging points with tier 2 or higher charging and nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles registered in the United States, a ratio of just over a 12-car charger nationwide, according to latest U.S. Department of Transportation data as of December 2021. But those chargers aren’t evenly distributed – in Arizona, for example, the ratio of electric vehicles to charging ports is 18 to one and in California, which has about 39% of the nation’s electric vehicles, there are 16 zero-emission vehicles for each charging port.

A briefing prepared for the US Department of Energy last year by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory predicts a total of just under 19 million electric vehicles in circulation by 2030, with the projected need for 9.6 million stations. extra charge to meet this demand.

In Los Angeles, for example, nearly a quarter of all new vehicles registered in July were plug-in electric vehicles. The city estimates that in the next 20 years it will have to expand its distribution capacity anywhere from 25% to 50%, with about two-thirds of the new energy demand coming from electric vehicles, said Yamen Nanne, manager of the Los Angeles Department. Water and Power Transportation Electrification Program.

Amid the boom, dense urban neighborhoods are fast becoming pressure points in the erratic transition to electrification.

In Los Angeles, the city has installed more than 500 electric vehicle chargers – 450 on street lamps and about 50 on power poles – to meet demand and aims to add 200 electric vehicle chargers per year, Nanne said. The chargers are strategically installed in areas where there are apartment complexes or near services, she said.

The city currently has 18,000 commercial chargers – those not in private homes – but only about 3,000 are publicly accessible and only 400 of those are DC Fast chargers, Nanne said. The demand is so high that “when we put a charger out there that is publicly accessible, we don’t even have to advertise. People see it and start using it, ”she said.

“We are doing really well in terms of shippers entering the workplace, but the ones that are accessible to the public are where there is a lot of room to catch up. Every city is fighting against this ”.

Similar initiatives to install pole loaders are underway or are being considered in cities from New York City to Charlotte, NC, to Kansas City, Missouri. Seattle City Light utility is also in the early stages of a pilot project to install battery chargers in neighborhoods where people can’t recharge at home.

Mark Long, who lives in a houseboat on Seattle’s Portage Bay, has rented or owned an electric vehicle since 2015 and charges public stations – and sometimes charges on an outdoor outlet at a nearby office and pays the cost.

“We have a small loading area, but we all park on the street,” said Long, who hopes to have one of the utility’s chargers installed for his floating community. “I’ve certainly found myself in some situations where I’m down at 15, 14, 12 miles and … whatever I had planned, I’m suddenly focused on getting a charge.”

Other cities, such as Portland, are working to change building codes for new construction to require electrified parking for new apartment complexes and mixed development. A proposal currently under development would require 50% of parking spaces in most new multi-family homes to have an electrical conduit that can support future charging stations. In complexes with six or fewer spaces, all parking lots should be pre-wired for charging electric vehicles.

Policies that provide fair access to pricing are key because with tax incentives and the emergence of a strong used electric vehicle market, zero-emission cars are finally within financial reach for low-income drivers, Ingrid Fish said. , in charge of Portland’s transportation decarbonization program.

“We hope that if we do our job right, these vehicles will become increasingly accessible and convenient for people, especially those who have been pushed out of the city center” by rising rents and do not have easy access to public transportation, Fish said.

The initiatives mimic those that have already been implemented in other nations that are far ahead in the adoption of electric vehicles.

Worldwide, by 2030, more than 6 million public chargers will be needed to support the adoption of electric vehicles at a pace that keeps international emissions targets at hand, according to a recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. As of this year, the Netherlands and Norway have already installed sufficient public tariff to meet 45% and 38% of that demand, respectively, while the US currently has less than 10%, according to the study. which looked at electrification in 17 countries and government agencies that account for more than half of global car sales.

Some European cities are far ahead of even the most electricity-savvy US cities. London, for example, has 4,000 public chargers on street lamps. It’s much cheaper – just a third of the cost of wiring a curb charging station, said Vishant Kothari, manager of the e-mobility team at the World Resources Institute.

But London and Los Angeles have an advantage over many cities in the United States: their street lamps run on 240 volts, better for charging electric vehicles. Most street lights in American cities run on 120 volts, which takes hours to charge a vehicle, said Kothari, co-author of a study on pole-charging potential in US cities.

This means that cities considering pole charging also need to find other solutions, from zoning changes to making charging in apartment complex parking lots accessible to policies that encourage fast charging in the workplace.

There is also “there must be a will on the part of the city, of public services – policies must be in place for accessibility on the pavement,” he said. “So there are a lot of complications.”

The changes can’t come fast enough for renters who already own electric vehicles and are struggling to charge them.

Rebecca DeWhitt rents a house but can’t use the garage. For several years, she and her partner slipped a standard extension cable 12 meters from an outlet near the front door, across the lawn, along a grassy knoll, and across a public sidewalk to their Nissan Leaf on the road.

They switched to a thicker extension cord and began parking in the driveway – also a violation of their rental agreement – when their first cable charred under the load of electric vehicles. They are still using their house socket and it takes up to two days to fully charge their new Hyundai Kona. As of now, their best alternative for a full charge is a nearby grocery store which can mean a long wait for one of the two fast charging stations to open.

“It’s uncomfortable,” he said. “And if we didn’t appreciate having an electric vehicle so much, we wouldn’t be able to take the pain.”


Associated Press climate data reporter Camille Fassett in Denver, video reporters from AP Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles and Haven Daley in San Francisco, and AP corporate editor Courtney Bonnell in London contributed to this report.


Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter: @gflaccus

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