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New Research Highlights the Disparities in Accessing Public EV Infrastructure Based on Income, Race, and Geography

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picture of ev car charging in front of a house

A new study led by CGS Assistant Research Director Jiehong Lou published in Nature Communications explores the disparities in the accessibility of publicly available electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure along income, race, geographic determinants, and other demographics. The study found increased investment is needed to bridge charging infrastructure in low-income and racial minority communities. The nationwide analysis, encompassing 121 million U.S. households, focused on social disparities in public EV infrastructure accessibility to inform more effective and equitable policymaking for American households that are at risk of being left behind in the transition to electric vehicles.

The United States set an ambitious goal of achieving a rapid transition to EVs by 2030. Specifically, half of vehicles sold in the U.S. need to be zero-emissions vehicles, and 500,000 EV chargers need to be online. Yet the future of publicly accessible and equitable EV infrastructure remains uncertain. The paper highlights the substantial hurdles in accessing vital EV infrastructure encountered by a range of demographic groups, from low-income and minority communities to both urban and rural populations to individuals residing in different housing types. Overall, the findings underscore a consistent trend: lower income correlates with greater distance to access EV infrastructure.

“We find that current infrastructure distribution fails to reach low-income and minority communities equitably, becoming a barrier to mass EV adoption,” said Jiehong Lou, CGS Assistant Research Director and lead author. “Ensuring policy support for public resources, including public EV infrastructure, across diverse communities is essential both to the rapid expansion of EV infrastructure and to meet the ambitious U.S. energy transition goals."

With insight into income and racial disparities in public EV infrastructure, policymakers will be able to target investments effectively toward disadvantaged communities. By identifying the significant disparities in public EV technology accessibility, the analysis emphasizes the need for tailored solutions to improve EV access and adoption across diverse communities.

“Historic funding and incentives at both national and state levels have propelled the transition to electric vehicles forward, but it is clear that we are overlooking critical equity considerations,” said CGS Director Nate Hultman and co-author of the paper. “By addressing the equity and infrastructure gap, policymakers can better ensure equitable access to EV technology for all households, regardless of income or racial background.”

Income-based EV infrastructure disparities are clear and consistent across the United States, while racial and ethnic disparities are more nuanced. On average, Black households in lower-income communities travel nearly a mile farther than white households to access EV infrastructure. Rural western areas such as northern Arizona, Utah, and northern Nevada show more income-based gaps, while racial disparities are notable in places such as southern Nevada and southeast Oregon.

As policymakers explore solutions to address equity disparities, it is important to understand the underlying barriers and factors that exacerbate these differences, such as poverty rates and proximity to highways. Policy opportunities to address these disparities include: 

  • Prioritize public EV infrastructure: Recognizing the imperative for future market growth and equitable access, prioritizing the expansion of public EV infrastructure can ensure widespread availability of EV technology across diverse race and population groups. As low-income and minority groups are more likely to rent, public chargers should be prioritized among major rental properties and communities where there is less garage access.
  • Focus on multi-family residences: Given that low-income and minority individuals are more likely to reside in multi-family housing, such as apartment complexes, policy efforts should target these areas for EV infrastructure deployment. 
  • Mandate inclusion in new developments: Integrating charging facilities into building codes for new residential and commercial developments can reduce accessibility barriers, facilitating broader adoption of EVs among diverse communities.
  • Strengthen state-level regulations: States should bolster efforts to promote equitable access to EV charging infrastructure and tailor policies to local conditions. Current findings indicate a limited number of state-level regulations addressing this issue, highlighting the need for expanded initiatives to support the proliferation of public charging options across various jurisdictions.
  • Engage subnational entities: Local governments, such as county- and city-level authorities, should also be engaged to provide further and additional policy support to improve the equity of EV infrastructure accessibility. Localized efforts can address specific community needs and ensure that charging infrastructure development is responsive to the unique challenges faced by different regions.

As the demand for public EV infrastructure rises, the availability of EV technology becomes increasingly essential. To ensure equitable access for diverse demographic groups, policymakers must advocate for inclusive policies and strategic expansion of EV infrastructure.

Check out the study to learn more.

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