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Charlotte plans an EV sharing service at affordable housing sites

Forth-carshare-St. Louis.jpeg
Forth Mobility
Forth Mobility of Oregon has already tested EV sharing in Oregon and St. Louis (above). Charlotte will be the only city in the Southeast to test the idea, starting next July.

Think of it as Zipcar for electric vehicles (EVs) in underserved neighborhoods: In some Charlotte affordable housing complexes next year you'll be able to reserve and drive EVs as part of a federally backed car-sharing pilot program.

Charlotte is among 10 cities nationwide and the only one in the South chosen to test drive the Affordable Mobility Platform, or AMP. Organizers say it's part of an effort not only to promote a shift to electric vehicles, but to ensure that shift does not favor some income groups over others.

The shared EVs are supposed to be available in July 2023. The city will put a total of 10 cars in five neighborhoods that have yet to be named. Rates haven't been set yet, but there will likely be an hourly or daily fee. And it's not clear yet which electric vehicles will be used.

"We're still working out a lot of the details, but we've identified, preliminarily, some housing partners," said Sarah Hazel, Charlotte's chief sustainability and resiliency officer. The five neighborhoods have a total of 538 housing units and parking.

Hazel said they looked for areas where the program can have "the highest possible impact," namely high-density housing sites that aren't already well-served by public transportation.

At each site, AMP will install two EV chargers, both with two ports. Two ports will be dedicated to the car sharing program. The others will be available for community use, by residents or visitors with their own EVs.

That would solve a key problem in the adoption of electric vehicles — making sure chargers are available to people who live in apartments and can’t pull their EVs into their own driveways.

That was also the city's rationale for installing a pole-mounted public charging station at a park off Beatties Ford Road, in Charlotte's West End.

Another important goal will be to introduce people to electric vehicles. Hazel said people will be able test drive EVs at "ride-and-drive" events. Then they'd be able to reserve the cars online or through an app — much like ordering a Zipcar or Lyft.

The $10 million, EV-sharing project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by an Oregon company called Forth Mobility. Forth has piloted EV sharing in St. Louis and Oregon.

The city of Charlotte, which is contributing $50,000, is working with two other local partners: the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), which is managing the project; and the Centralina Regional Council.

The pilot is funded for two years. After that, the local and national partners hope to devise a business model that will make the program self-funded in the future. The question is whether people will be willing to continue supporting a public car-sharing system.

"That's what we're hoping to determine over the course of the next couple of years," Hazel said.

Electric vehicles are spreading, but they remain pricey. Kelley Blue Book estimates the average price paid for a new electric vehicle is more than $64,000. The new program is trying to help meet local and state goals for ensuring that climate change solutions and programs reach everyone — not just wealthier communities.

Hazel noted that this addresses both transportation and equity, two parts of the city's Strategic Energy Action Plan adopted in 2018.

"We have, as you know, these really bold goals around greenhouse gas reduction. A big piece of that is getting people out of single-occupancy vehicles and onto transportation, and building a bikeable, walkable city," Hazel said.

"We can't do this without really using an equity lens. Our city council adopted this Strategic Energy Action Plan, and equity is the foundation of it. And that requires intentionality," she said.

Related: Charlotte transportation plan has a big goal: getting us out of our cars

Equity is also a state climate goal.

"With Governor Cooper’s administration's focus on the rapid and equitable shift to electric transportation, this innovative project will serve as a model for wider-scale EV sharing in underserved communities across (North Carolina)," said Stan Cross, electric transportation policy director at SACE. "The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has been advocating for centering equity in state electric transportation policies, plans, and programs. We are excited to roll up our sleeves with our partners and help get it done."

Cross said that besides managing the project, SACE will help promote the benefits of EVs and gather data "to inform city and state-wide electric transportation planning, policies, and program implementations."

The pilot's 10 cities are Charlotte; Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico; Boise, Idaho; Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; St. Louis, Missouri; and Seattle.

Patrick King, SACE's electric transportation equity manager, said the AMP project gives users access to a vehicle "that reduces emissions, and at a low cost that's a fraction of traditional vehicle ownership that doesn't break the bank."

And he said it would "improve the air quality, not just for members of the housing developments but for all communities."

A version of this story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly climate newsletter, which is emailed Thursdays.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.