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City leaders should expand their purview of electric transportation beyond cars, experts urge

Dan Zukowski, SmartCitiesDive


Education, community engagement and adaptation will be key to bring cleaner mobility choices to low income neighborhoods and communities of color as the country makes the transition to electric vehicles (EV), experts said during an online webinar hosted by global consulting services company ICF.

Low income neighborhoods and communities of color are more affected by transport-generated air pollution and have fewer resources to pay for new EVs, according to ICF Senior Director of Transportation Electrification and ICF Climate Center Stacy Noblet. Power utility companies, aided by cities, transportation providers, and non-governmental organizations, can assist in providing access to electric transportation in those underserved communities, panelists said.


"It's important to think about how different segments are going to engage with electrification," said Garrett Fitzgerald, principal of electrification at the Smart Electric Power Alliance.


Most car buyers do not purchase factory-new vehicles, Fitzgerald said, and low income buyers are the least likely to do so. That means that although auto manufacturers are producing more EVs, it will be some years before they reach a large majority of car owners.


"We really have to expand the purview of what electrification means, beyond just light-duty, personally owned vehicles, but to include public transportation, school buses, ride-hailing [transportation network companies], electric bicycles, [and] the second-hand market," Fitzgerald said.


Lower income households rely on school buses, for instance, more than higher income families, and nearly 95% of school buses are diesel powered, according to Matt Stanberry, managing director of Highland Electric Transportation. Air quality within these vehicles can also be up to 12 times dirtier than ambient air quality, leading to asthma and other childhood health issues, said Stanberry.


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