EV ride-sharing programs bring clean transportation to low-income communities

EV ride-sharing programs bring clean transportation to low-income communities

Three mornings a week, Herminia Ibarra makes her way to a fleet of gleaming electric vehicles in a dusty alleyway alongside a former diesel repair shop. Among five Chevy Bolts, three Tesla Ys, two Volkswagen E-Golfs and one BMW i3, she always tries to find her favorite: the red Bolt with its Bluetooth set up. In this EV, she will pick up two retired farm workers who are her regular customers and drive them on two-lane roads to their dialysis appointments 20 miles away.

Ms. Ibarra is a raita, a term for the practice of neighbors providing rides to community members in need. The shop, which has a Mexican flag draped around its stairway, is the nerve center of Green Writers, an EV ride-sharing initiative in Huron, California, that helps low-income residents, many of them elderly, get to medical appointments for free. Shuts it down. ,

Ms. Ibarra, behind the wheel of Red Bolt, which its proponents call “mobility justice” in action: an effort to address the reality that low-income communities are hardest hit by pollution from diesel trucks, highways and other sources Has gone. At least access to zero-emission vehicles.

Enter Green Reuters. Born out of a lack of public transit, a concern and stubborn determination for the environment, the program was masterminded by the Latino Equity Advocacy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit founded by Ray Leon, mayor of Huron.

Similar efforts are underway in California, New York and other regions, along with mounting pressure in Washington, D.C., to subsidize EV programs. Under bipartisan infrastructure legislation, the federal government is providing $700 million in grants to local governments to install charging infrastructure in under-served areas.

All of these initiatives aim to provide more people in low-income communities with access to cleaner forms of transportation. In Huron, the local effort has resulted in 30 charging stations strategically placed around town, among other projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the area.

Surrounded by vast acres of garlic and tomato fields, Huron is a small agricultural town in the “Heart of the Valley”, as proclaimed by a sign on the main street into town. Of the 6,200 residents of Huron, 95 percent are Latino and about 50 percent are immigrants. And despite being just 50 miles from Fresno, the state’s fifth-largest city, Huron is too far away for Uber or Lyft to operate.

Mr. Leone refers to the practice of ride-sharing in Latino communities as the “indigenous Uber”. He is the son of a migrant worker brought to America under the bracero program which lasted from 1942 to 1964, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. The emotional resonance of ride-sharing came early: When Mr. Leone was a child, his uncle worked as a rideshare. “He was a tall man with a big sombrero and a little car—a green Pinto,” he recalled. “He was like Curious George with the man in the big yellow hat. Big guy, little car.

When Mr. Lyons’ uncle was not available, the family’s transit options were limited. Mr. Lyons recalls that he and his mother had to take a county bus to visit a seriously injured cousin in hospital some 55 miles away, an exhausting three-and-a-half-hour journey with at least 16 stops.

For Mr. Lyons, the ordeal of his youth laid the foundation for Green Writers. Electric vehicles that usually zip around the rolling hills of wealthy Malibu or Marin County are now accessible to “maintainers of the food chain,” as Mr. Lyons describes its majority farming residents.

Huron’s median household income is $35,000, and many people, Mr. Leone said, spend 30 to 40 percent of their monthly wages on gas-powered cars that break down frequently. Residents breathe consistently ranked as some of the worst in the country.

“Like affordable housing, mobility and transportation are a basic human right,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program for the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the University of California Berkeley Law School. In low-income, ecologically fragile areas like Huron, he said, getting the necessary infrastructure up and running often requires multiple sources of public funding — especially charging stations — including applying for grants in the first place. Employees to do.

Mr. Leone launched Green Writers in 2018 with money from a private foundation and half a million dollars from the settlement of a legal case between NRG Energy and the California Public Utilities Commission. Tesla was courtesy of a $1 million grant from the California Air Resources Board, the state air quality regulator charged with developing programs to fight climate change. (a law requires at least 35 percent of some climate investment projects benefits low-income communities and families.) The $150,000 annual operating budget is largely a mix of funding from the Air Board, state agencies and philanthropy, supplemented by recent contributions from General Motors. “It’s always about playing catch-up,” Mr. Lyons said.

Tax credits and consumer rebates for buying an EV are of little use to people for whom owning a car is a significant financial constraint. “Owning a car is a poverty alleviation,” observed Mr. Lyons, sitting in the green Reutersos dispatch center behind Main Street’s faded gray plaster.

Ms. Ibarra, like some Green RightRose drivers, started out as a customer. Her husband, Victor Garcia, worked as an agricultural truck driver and needed access to the only family car, so Ms. Ibarra relied on Reutersos to get around. Gregorio Hernandez, 69, one of their regulars and a retired farmworker, was an original “Green Riotero” but became unable to drive after two strokes. He usually rides in Ms Ibarra’s Bolt with dialysis partner Enrique Contreras, who said it would cost $40 a day to pay someone to drive him.

Ms. Ibarra’s route to the dialysis center is a slice of Central Valley life, crisscrossing miles of pistachio and almond orchards, and shoulder to shoulder with cotton fields. She passed on local employers like a major state prison and the hot tomato paste processing plant where she used to work. In the car, the three talk about what’s growing, the job scene in the fields, and of course, the weather. Ms. Ibarra always waits for both men to finish their dialysis appointments, then drives them home.

She said she cares about the planet but prefers EVs mainly because she hates pumping gas. She tracks mileage on her iPhone, pulling over to the charger at the end of the day. At night, the program cars stay behind a chain-link fence guarded by two pit bulls, Princess and Pookie.

“It’s important because many people don’t drive, don’t have cars and have no one to pick them up,” Ms Ibarra said. “They are all agricultural laborers and will have to lose a day’s work.”

Green Ridero’s customers, about 120 in total, either sign up for rides in advance or simply wander into the former repair shop. Many “still have old-fashioned flip phones,” said dispatcher and longtime driver David Mercado. “They can call it day or night. We’re a tight-knit community.

Inventive models for EV ride sharing are flourishing elsewhere, from rural, unincorporated communities outside fresno for one new car-sharing program Bringing EVs to affordable housing complexes in eight states. BlueLA, operated by Blink Mobility, a pioneering public-private effort in Los Angeles, began in 2015 with funding from the California Air Resources Board and the city’s Department of Water and Power. It offers car sharing Discounted rates for low income members: $1 per month for subscription and 15 cents per minute in rental fee.

In Rancho San Pedro, a largely Latino public housing complex adjacent to the heavily polluted, highly trafficked port of Los Angeles, residents prepare for a $100,000 state-funded pilot launched by the nonprofit Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator Launched a campaign to bring two electric vehicles and charging stations. Transport desert more than 20 miles from the city.

Communal Nissan Leafs, rented for $5 an hour, have been a hit with residents, with prime time for school drop-off starting at 6 a.m. “If the car breaks down, you don’t have to fix it,” said Maria Montes, who trains others on how to use the EV sharing program.

other EV pilots, such as non-profit miocarUnderlying affordable housing developments throughout the Central Valley, public investment is relied upon.

The most far-reaching concept is the nation’s first municipally owned car share in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., with a fleet of 170 electric vehicles and 70 charging spots covering a 35-square-mile area with a high concentration of poverty. AV Carshare Beginning last year, subsidized by $7 million in federal grants, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. to $4 million and funding from both cities.

But collectively, these nonprofit programs face wide-ranging obstacles. Because they offer below-market pricing, their long-term financial stability and ability to scale up may be uncertain. “This is an inversion of the dominant car-sharing model, operating profitably in affluent urban areas with high-quality transit,” said Carolyn Rodier, associate director of the Urban Land Use and Transportation Center at UC Davis. who have studied miocar and rural car sharing.

Getting auto insurance can also be a struggle, said Creighton Randall, CEO Mobility Development GroupWho specializes in launching such projects.

Ithaca CarShare in Upstate New York, which has operated for 15 years with 30 cars and 1,500 members, recently went on hiatus After the two remaining private insurers of car sharing left the New York market. Last week, the state passed legislation that allows nonprofits to own pool insurance, allowing programs like Ithaca’s to secure affordable plans and continue operating.

And in Cantua Creek, California, a small Central Valley town (population 471), the much-anticipated arrival of four EVs and six chargers in November 2019 through a state program was short-lived. The cars were impounded at the beginning of the pandemic and later removed without any formalities.

Poeticly named “Van y Wien” (meaning “they come and go”), community members can volunteer as drivers through an app set up by Green Commuter, a private ride-sharing company. Are. For residents like Rosario Rodriguez, 47, who lives in neighboring Three Rocks and doesn’t drive, it was a huge relief.

The $1.9 million project included $749,800 in California Air Board funding. Its demise “speaks to the larger issue of investing in public transit that goes beyond traditional projects,” said Veronica Garibe, co-executive director. Leadership Consultant for Justice and AccountabilityA legal and social justice organization that works with low-income, rural communities.

Cars provided residents with a fleeting glimpse of freedom. “They were riding with people I could trust,” Ms. Rodriguez said, citing easier trips to her mammograms, dental appointments and food shopping in Fresno, 50 miles away. “Then one day, the cars were gone.”

“To be honest, I just feel helpless and hopeless,” she said. “Having a form of transport is not a privilege or a luxury. It is a necessity.

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