States are about to deploy hundreds of millions of dollars to install electric vehicle (EV) chargers near major highways to accelerate EV adoption and ease “range anxiety” – the fear of being unable to recharge an EV before reaching one’s destination.
This concern is an exceptionally high barrier to EV adoption in disadvantaged and low-income communities and communities of color. Even as incentives make EVs more affordable, EVs may be impractical for drivers who lack access to charging at home or work without more publicly available and accessible charging.
In recognition of this barrier, and the history of underserved communities that have been overburdened by air pollution from gasoline-powered vehicles, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program requires states to spend at least 40% of EV charging funds in disadvantaged communities as part of the Justice40 Initiative.
States have an extraordinary opportunity to maximize the benefit of NEVI funds by expanding EV infrastructure efficiently, effectively and equitably.
Doing so will take a community-based and data-driven approach.
Meaningful community engagement is needed throughout the process
First, policymakers should engage in meaningful community engagement to identify community-defined barriers and needs. This information should be used as a baseline for decisions on where to site EV infrastructure.
A key part of meaningful engagement is to acknowledge the historical, cultural and multigenerational trauma and dynamics of some communities, which often includes a negative experience with government, as well as the historical imbalance of power perpetuated by inequities. One solution is to turn to trusted partners like community-based organizations and compensate them for facilitating community engagement.
Leverage deep data to identify optimal charging sites
Second, policymakers should use data to identify optimal EV infrastructure sites. That means going beyond the highway off-ramp to place EV chargers in areas where people live, work and shop and where chargers will best meet community-identified needs.
For example, CSE worked with the nonprofit Louisiana Clean Fuels to develop a NEVI plan based on stakeholder engagement and data. (Get the case study.) The project team conducted outreach in-person and virtually, including a community meeting, surveys and a joint webinar (hosted with other state departments of transportation) to engage tribal nations.
CSE’s Caret® EV Infrastructure Planner incorporated data on traffic patterns, consumer convenience, median income levels, multi-unit housing density, proximity to tribal areas and disadvantaged communities and more. CSE helped the state mathematically weight its priorities and rank potential charging sites to ensure its goals, such as reliable charging access to lower-income renters, will be met.
Cross-check charging plans with the community
Third, once prospective sites have been identified, policymakers should engage the community again to verify these results.
Policymakers should go beyond minimum standards that require sites to be safe, accessible and well-lit, and ensure these sites address existing barriers and benefit community members. For example, seek to understand whether a site:
- Is frequented by community members.
- Has basic services and amenities to keep drivers occupied while their vehicles are charging.
- Fills gaps in charging networks.
Collect data to verify results and inform future decision-making
Once charging sites have been identified, funded and built out, the work isn’t over.
Are the chargers working reliably?
Which charger locations are over- or under-used?
When and how are they being used?
Answering these and other questions will require detailed data collection and effective evaluation. The Federal Highway Administration has proposed robust data collection standards for the NEVI Program, including tracking charger uptime and use.
CSE is working with the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP), which predates NEVI, to use CSE’s Caret EV Charging Knowledgebase to securely aggregate and analyze EV charging data to understand how, when and where EV charging is actually being used. These real-world data can also be used to quantify direct benefits to disadvantaged communities, low-income communities and tribal nations.
Real-world data on charger use plus community input should inform future decisions about which types of chargers to fund and where to place them. CSE recommends data be aggregated and visualized on publicly accessible and interactive dashboards. This will enable policymakers, key stakeholders and members of disadvantaged and low-income communities to assess the performance of existing chargers to inform decisions on future EV charger deployment to best address community-identified barriers and needs.
Community engagement plus data-driven decision-making will drive greater access to EV infrastructure that best meets the needs identified by disadvantaged and low-income communities and communities of color.