Renters face payment dilemma as US cities switch to electric cars

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Stephanie Terrell bought a used Nissan Leaf this fall and was excited to join the wave of drivers choosing electric vehicles to save money on gas and reduce their carbon footprint.

But Terrell quickly hit a bump in the road on her journey to clean driving: As a renter, she doesn’t have a private garage where she can charge overnight, and the public charging stations near her are often used and require long waits. times Recently, a 23-year-old almost ran out of power on the freeway because the public charging station she was relying on was busy.

“It was very scary and I was very worried that I wouldn’t make it, but luckily I made it here. Now I have to wait a couple of hours to even use it because I can’t go any further,” she said as she waited at another station, where half a dozen electric car drivers were circling the parking lot waiting for their turn. “I feel better about buying gas, but there are challenges I didn’t expect.”

There’s a big shift to electric cars for single-family homeowners who can charge their cars at home, but for millions of renters like Terrell, access to charging remains a major hurdle. Renters are also more likely to buy used EVs with less range than the latest models, making reliable public charging even more important to them.

Cities from Portland to Los Angeles to New York are now trying to come up with innovative solutions for public charging, with drivers running power cords along sidewalks, setting up their own private charging stations on city curves and lining up outside public facilities. .

The Biden administration plans from all 50 states were approved last month deploy a network of high-speed chargers along interstate highways from coast to coast using $5 billion in federal funding over the next five years. But states must wait to apply for an additional $2.5 billion in local grants to fill toll gaps, including in low- and moderate-income urban areas and areas with limited private parking.

“We have a big challenge right now to make charging easier for people who live in apartments,” said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in electric vehicle ownership and access to charging.

“Cities need a mindset shift to understand that promoting electric vehicles is also part of their sustainable transport strategy. Once they make that mental shift, there’s a whole bunch of very tangible things they can — and should — do.”

The fastest place to charge is a fast charger, also known as DC Fast. They charge the car in 20-45 minutes. But slower chargers that take several hours, known as Level 2, still outnumber fast DC chargers by nearly four to one, although their numbers are growing. Charging an EV from a standard residential outlet or Level 1 charger isn’t practical if you don’t drive much or can leave your car plugged in overnight, as many homeowners do.

There are about 120,000 public charging ports nationwide with Level 2 or higher, and nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles registered in the U.S. — a ratio of just over one charger for every 12 cars in the country, according to recent data Data from the US Department of Transportation from December 2021. But these chargers are not evenly distributed: Arizona, for example, has an 18-to-1 ratio of electric vehicles to charging ports, while California, home to about 39% of the nation’s electric vehicles, has 16 zero ports. emission vehicles for each charging port.

A briefing prepared for the US Department of Energy last year by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, predicts that there will be just under 19 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, and an additional 9.6 million charging stations will be needed to meet that demand.

In Los Angeles, for example, nearly one-quarter of all new vehicle registrations in July were electric vehicles. The city estimates it will have to increase its distribution capacity by 25% to 50% in the next 20 years, with about two-thirds of new electricity demand coming from electric vehicles, said Yamen Nanne, Los Angeles department manager. Water and Power Transport Electrification Program.

Against the background of the boom, densely populated urban areas are quickly becoming points of tension in the uneven transition to electrification.

In Los Angeles, the city has installed more than 500 EV chargers — 450 on street lights and about 50 of them on utility poles — to meet demand, and aims to add 200 EV chargers a year, Nanne said. Chargers are strategically placed in areas where there are apartment complexes or near amenities, he said.

The city currently has 18,000 commercial chargers — those that aren’t in private homes — but only about 3,000 of those are publicly accessible, and only 400 of those are DC fast chargers, Nanne said. Demand is so high that “when we host a public charger, we don’t even need to advertise. People just see it and start using it,” he said.

“We’re doing very well with workplace chargers, but there’s a lot of room for compensation with public chargers. Every city struggles with this.”

Similar initiatives to install pole chargers are in place or under consideration in cities from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Kansas City, Missouri. The Seattle City Light utility is also in its early stages pilot project install chargers in areas where people cannot charge at home.

Mark Long, who lives on a houseboat in Seattle’s Portage Bay, has rented or owned an electric car since 2015 and charges it at public stations, sometimes charging it from a street outlet at a nearby office and returning the cost.

“We have a small loading dock, but we all just park outside,” said Long, who hopes to install one of the utility’s chargers for his floating community. “I’ve certainly been in a few situations where I’ve been down to 15, 14, 12 miles and … whatever I was planning, I’m just suddenly focused on getting a charge.”

Other cities, such as Portland, are working to amend building codes for new construction to require electrified parking spaces for new apartment complexes and mixed-use developments. A proposal is currently being developed would require 50% of parking spaces in most new apartment buildings to be wired to support future charging stations. In complexes with six or fewer spaces, all parking spaces must be pre-wired for electric vehicle charging.

Policies that ensure equal access to charging are important because, with tax credits and the emergence of a robust used electric vehicle market, zero-emission cars are finally becoming affordable for lower-income drivers, said Ingrid Fish, who oversees Portland’s transportation decarbonization program.

“We hope that if we do our job right, these vehicles will become more and more affordable for people, especially those who have been pushed out of the inner city” by rising rents and don’t have easy access to public transportation. said Fish.

The initiatives mimic those that have already been rolled out in other countries that have made significant progress in the adoption of electric vehicles.

Globally, more than 6 million public chargers will be needed by 2030 to support the adoption of electric vehicles at a rate to keep international emissions targets within reach. according to a recent study International Clean Transportation Council. As of this year, the Netherlands and Norway have already installed enough public chargers to meet 45% and 38% of that demand, respectively, while the U.S. now has less than 10%, according to the study. which looked at electrification in 17 countries and government agencies that account for more than half of global car sales.

Some European cities are far ahead of even the most electric US cities. In London, for example, there are 4,000 public chargers for street lights. It’s much cheaper — just a third of the cost of connecting a charging station to the sidewalk, said Vishant Kothari, manager of the World Resources Institute’s electric mobility group.

But London and Los Angeles have an advantage over many US cities: their streetlights run on 240 volts, which is better for charging electric cars. Most American city street lights run on 120 volts, requiring hours to charge a vehicle, said Kothari, who was a co-author of the study on the potential for pole charging in US cities.

That means cities considering pole charging must also find other solutions, from zoning changes to making charging available in apartment complex parking lots and policies that encourage fast charging at the workplace.

Also, “there must be a desire of the city, communal services – it is necessary to implement a policy for accessibility from the side of the road,” he said. “So there are quite a few complications.”

Change can’t come fast enough for renters who already own electric cars and struggle to charge them.

Rebecca DeWitt rents the house, but does not have the right to use the garage. For several years, she and her partner extended a standard extension cord 40 feet (12 meters) from the outlet near the front door of the house, across the lawn, down a grassy hill and across a public sidewalk to reach their Nissan Leaf outside.

They switched to a thicker extension cord and started parking in the driveway — also a lease violation — when their first cord charred under the load of the electric car. They still use a home outlet and it takes up to two days to fully charge their new Hyundai Kona. At the moment, the best alternative for a full charge is the nearest grocery store, which can mean a long wait for one of the two fast charging stations to open.

“It’s uncomfortable,” she said. “And if we didn’t really value having an electric car, we wouldn’t put up with that pain.”

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Associated Press Climate Data reporter Camilla Fawcett in Denver, AP video reporters Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles and Haven Daly in San Francisco and AP business editor Courtney Bonnell in London contributed to this report.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter: @gflaccus

Follow AP news on climate and environment at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about the AP Climate Initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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