Planning an Equitable EV Transition
by Laura Frances
There is no time for trickle-down electric vehicle infrastructure strategies. The time for EV for all is now.
In general, transportation accounts for more emissions than any other economic sector, such as industry or agriculture. Cars and trucks are responsible for one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US, and passenger cars and trucks account for 82% of all transportation emissions. It would be remiss not to mention that electricity production is a close second to transportation in emissions production. However, unlike the fossil fuel industry, electricity can be produced with renewable energy. Today, over 20% of electricity is generated through renewables like solar, wind, or hydropower. This percentage continues to grow. In 2022, solar power generated over 50% of the country’s new electricity generating capacity.
In Philadelphia, the majority of existing EV infrastructure, like charging stations, are located in the wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods with strong public transit connectivity and low air pollution .
Electrifying transportation via renewable resources is critical to reducing and eliminating harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
While emissions are shared globally, zero-carbon transit is vital to our communities on the ground. Too many urban residents live along congested streets and major highways and suffer from disproportionate rates of life-threatening health conditions, like asthma. We cannot wait for the benefits of electric vehicles to trickle down to these overburdened and underserved communities. The benefits of electric vehicles need to be equitably accessible to all.
Cities need to take a more systematic approach to funding and facilitating EV expansion in areas without alternative green modes of transportation.
Prioritizing electric vehicle charging close to public transit is redundant. Cities need to take a more systematic approach to funding and facilitating EV expansion in areas without alternative green modes of transportation. The EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) for All Index is designed to be a starting point for a systematic approach.
In planning for an equitable EV transition, it is imperative to evaluate three key metrics:
Source: 2021 US Census ACS data by census tract for a percentage of residents living below the poverty line and percentage of non-white vs white residents.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Justice 2018 data on annual average fine particulate matter levels (2.5µg/m3) and 2019 data on annual average diesel particulate matter levels (µg/m3) (2019) by census tract combined with U.S. Department of Transportation 2019 data on traffic proximity and volume data.
Source: 2021 US Census ACS data by census tract for a percentage of residents who rely on a car to commute to work.
Each census tract is scored for each metric. The EVSE for All Index is based on a total score of these three metrics. The Index maps out areas where new electric vehicle charging infrastructure may have a significant impact in Philadelphia. Future location selection may also consider accessibility design, for example. The Index intentionally only uses data available for all census tracts around the country so that it’s replicable beyond Philadelphia. Its scoring methodology is flexible, so cities and counties can integrate location-specific data to enhance their analysis.
EVSE For All
The federal government is heavily investing in electric vehicles. States can access billions in federal infrastructure funding, and individuals can access thousands in tax credits . Emissions-free cars and trucks will likely account for 13% of all new auto sales globally in 2022 - up from 4% just two years earlier - signaling an upward trend in the share of these vehicles on the road. Local government can do its part, too. Identifying and streamlining sites for electric vehicle charging based on potential impact is feasible, urgent, and equity-focused.
The data, funding, renewable energy sources, and growing demand to invest equitably in our future are all there.
Now is the time to harness that energy.
Acknowledgments: A prior edition of this analysis was conducted for Dr. Allison Lassiter’s Intro to Smart Cities course in collaboration with Kathleen Scopis, Ivy Steinberg-McElroy, and Marissa O’Neill.
About the Author: Laura Frances
Laura (she/her) is a first-year Master of City Planning student concentrating in Smart Cities. Before her time at Penn, Laura started an innovation consultancy called Built Interest based on the premise that too many real estate developers are bad creative problem solvers. She was hired to help owners manage the concept, the architect, and all things “people-centric” to create better places and spaces, from food halls in Toronto to zero-carbon offices in Berlin.
1 “Asthma Facts.” Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, November 1, 2022.
2 “Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
3 In Philadelphia, only 4.5% of EV charging stations are within a 10 min walk of public housing residences.
4 “Solar Power Will Account for Nearly Half of New U.S. Electric Generating Capacity in 2022.” Homepage - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
5 Temple, James. “The Inevitable EV: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023.” MIT Technology Review. MIT Technology Review, January 13, 2023.