Across California, low-income communities of color lack equitable access to affordable public EV charging.
California’s transportation sector is responsible for about 50% of the state’s climate-related emissions. Concentration of toxic air pollutants including PM2.5 and ozone (smog) from tailpipe emissions are known to harm heart and lung health, leading to an increased risk of respiratory illnesses and even premature death. Across California, low-income communities of color tend to live in closer proximity to busy roads and highways, disproportionately exposing them to these pollutants: a clear environmental injustice.
As the impacts of poor air quality worsen, the state has prioritized electrifying its transportation sector. Growing investments at the state and federal level guarantee a future of widespread electric vehicle (EV) use. Nevertheless, significant barriers stand in the way of EV adoption for many, including access to affordable public charging. With more charging infrastructure on its way, inequities in EV fueling costs exist for low-income communities that will only worsen with this impending build-out.
Disparities in Charging Access Across Racial and Income Demographics
The existing landscape of community demographics, housing types, and charger access across the state highlight critical challenges. In California, 85% of EV owners live in single-family homes, and the vast majority have access to home chargers. But, almost half of our state’s residents live in apartment or condominium complexes—collectively referred to as MUDs, or Multi-Unit Dwellings. Of those, fewer than 50% enjoy charging access where they live.
This disparity widens when considered across racial and socio-economic lines. Studies show that low-income communities of color, particularly majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, residing in MUDs, are far less likely to have access to charging infrastructure.
Installing Chargers at Single-Family Homes vs. MUDs
Residents of single family homes enjoy a process that is relatively easy and cost efficient compared to those in condos and apartments. Even with the legal right for a tenant to install an EV charger, MUDs residents are responsible for covering upfront installation and electrical costs. The challenges are even greater for those without assigned parking spaces or on-site parking, leaving many to rely solely on public chargers.
Future Investments Must Center Environmental and Economic Justice
Beyond the convenience of at-home charging, communities residing in MUDs miss out on real economic benefits. Residents with at-home chargers are able to enroll in discounted electricity rates from their utility. According to PG&E, charging an EV with their discounted rate is roughly equivalent to $1.96 per gallon for gas. With gas prices averaging $5.40 per gallon in 2022, those who have the luxury of charging an EV at home can save hundreds of dollars per year in fuel costs. However, existing state incentives for at-home lower EV charging rates overwhelmingly favor a small portion of state residents. This leaves behind communities who stand to benefit the most from EV adoption, namely, low-income communities of color disproportionately burdened with the adverse health effects of vehicle-related air pollution and the high costs of fueling gasoline-powered cars.