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Published on August 13th, 2015 | by Steve Hanley


Low-Income Electric Carsharing Comes To Los Angeles

August 13th, 2015 by  

Originally published on Gas2.

A Los Angeles carsharing program will target low-income neighborhoods. The program will begin with 100 new cars, 80 of them electric. It will also install charging stations to support the carsharing plan, which is funded by a $1.6 million dollar grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Car sharing program gaining popularity

Studies by the Shared Use Mobility Center (SUMC) in Chicago show that one shared car can replace as many as 70 conventional cars in urban environments. That means the LA carsharing program may remove as up to 7,000 old, high-emissions cars from the city’s streets. Cars also have a disproportionate impact on the finances of low-income families. Eliminating car payments, fuel costs, and expenses for insurance and maintenance can leave such families with far more disposable income.

Sharon Feigon, executive director of SUMC, says it is possible “to live well without owning a car.” She has more than a decade of experience setting up and running carsharing services in cities around the country. She says introducing an affordable carsharing program in a disadvantaged neighborhood is like opening a grocery store in a food desert: It taps into underserved demand.

“Our experience is doing something like this can work really well,” says Feigon. “Take really good electric cars and make them affordable and accessible to people who don’t have a lot of money for transportation—of course that can work.”

According to The National Journal, California Senate president pro tem Kevin de León, who represents LA,has nothing but praise for policies that “democratize” climate-change progress. “All individuals deserve access to electrical vehicles,” he said in a speech on June 24.

Community groups will play a key role in shaping the on-the-ground details of the carsharing program because local knowledge will be vital to the program’s success. Unlike wealthier neighborhoods where carsharing already thrives, the new program operator (who has not been chosen yet) cannot assume that everyone in the target area has a bank account, a cell phone, or an internet connection.

That’s quite different from the typical carsharing system where users sign up online, then locate and book cars on their phones. The new program might need to include a multi-lingual call center to help people reserve cars.

Grassroots participation can be attractive to carsharing companies because it helps them ease into a new market, says Feigon. “Part of what I think makes it interesting to the operators is that these community groups will be involved, so they’ll have support,” she says. “From the company’s point of view, it’s all about utilization: if the cars are used in the right numbers, then it works for these companies.”

In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal has blasted state policies in California, Oregon and Washington that allow utilities to install chargers in upscale neighborhoods but include the costs in their rate base so all customers are forced to pay for them. The LA carsharing program should at least meet that objection, since the new charging infrastructure will be installed exclusively in low-income neighborhoods.

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

  • hhl

    What we really need is an ICE car sharing program (hassle free ongoing rental where you don’t need to waste two hours renting a car) for people with low range electric cars who need to go far once in a while.

    • Brent Jatko

      Maybe conventional car rental companies could rent to a “corporation” formed by electric car owners.

      I’m no expert, but I think it might be worth their time.

    • joshua

      or buy a Volt

      • Brent Jatko


        • joshua

          but really it’s an amazing car. I’ve had it two months and only put gas in it once to drive to a wedding. I got a very good deal on it, though I also realize that I might be better off driving a low range all electric and renting an ICE for long drives, but the awesomeness is worth the price difference (for me).

          • Brent Jatko

            I agree completely. I’d buy one if I could charge it at home (we live in a condo).

          • Ken

            You can add charging to almost any parking space and it is now becoming illegal in many places for condo associations to turn down requests to install charging at parking spaces.

            Most have been quite open to it because there is a lot of demand.

          • Brent Jatko

            We are renting the unit, not buying, so I think that may not be an option.

          • Ken

            In California, even renters can not be refused but I’m not sure about elsewhere yet.

            You can still ask. If you pay for the installation, which is often not expensive, it is a plus for the condo owner.

          • Brent Jatko

            We live in TX, so it’s not as if we have a progressive government that favors the rights of renters here.

      • hhl

        A Volt is expensive compared to a Leaf + once a quarter rental. Plus I do not trust GM anymore.

    • Bob_Wallace



      I have to say that the last couple of times I’ve rented a car the process has been pretty quick. The major downside for EV driver might be that most rental companies seem to be located at airports.

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