Jan. 31, 2024
Electrification for Equity: A Car Share Program in Sacramento
CarShare users have made 47,932 reservations and traveled 724,018 miles in electric vehicles since 2017, proving the program’s success.
In 2017, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD) launched a pilot electric vehicle (EV) car share program, Our Community CarShare (OCCS). OCCS seeks to increase mobility and access through community-based EV car sharing and to improve air quality in low-income, disadvantaged communities (as defined by the California Air Resources Board), which are often overburdened by air pollution.
Creating a Program Responsive to Community Needs
Phase I of the program was launched in May 2017 at four subsidized housing community sites in the Sacramento area. The program provided each site with two EVs—Kia Souls with 90 miles of driving range—and assigned dedicated parking spaces with Level 2 chargers for use only by car-share program vehicles. SMAQMD partnered with ZipCar for its vehicle reservation and use platform. This partnership also included vehicle support, license verification, and insurance verification and supplementation. From its launch to April 2018, program users took 6,000 trips covering about 92,000 miles, proving the program was meeting a real need.
In 2019, Phase II of the program expanded to include three more housing sites. Each of these new sites had two vehicles and a dedicated Level 2 charger. The project replaced the Kia Souls with Chevy Bolts, which increased driving range by over 140 miles, and added Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans. The grant source for Phase II encouraged communities to install additional chargers not dedicated to the EV car share. One community did this and noted that residents used the chargers for privately owned EVs. The lessons learned in Phase I allowed the work to be executed more quickly in Phase II and proved the repeatability of the program.
Scheduled for launch in 2020, Phase III was delayed by pandemic shutdowns and permitting and construction delays. Now planned for launch in later in 2023, Phase III includes a plan to include two more communities in its EV car share program and a mobility hub developed by a local nonprofit. The mobility hub, which will align many different transit modes, will provide access to charging and multiple forms of mobility at a single location. As the first public OCCS site, it will serve a much larger member base.
Responding to Challenges for Economic and Environmental Sustainability
One of the biggest initial obstacles to the SMAQMD EV car share program was figuring out how to insure vehicles. Through early learnings, SMAQMD identified that ZipCar fit the project’s needs for a self-insured partner. ZipCar helped with technical rollout hurdles and onboarding (license issues, insurance, etc.). Steffani Charkiewicz, an air quality engineer with Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, noted that working with ZipCar has been key to advancing the program.
In the program’s early stages, outreach and education were also challenges. For the initial rollout, on-site program representatives helping drivers use the vehicles were neither community members nor known community affiliates. Trust was an issue as many community members thought the program might have a “catch.” Charkiewicz noted that community education is an ongoing effort and not a one-time event. The program partnered with Breathe California, a known community partner, to encourage increased car share usage. Breathe California provided community representatives uniquely suited to the different locations, which was key to the program’s success.
The lack of availability of, and fluency with, smartphones and other technologies were also early issues in some communities, notably ones with larger populations of senior citizens. Initially, ZipCar reservation-platform use was a potential obstacle as using it required electronic access, a potential barrier for those without a smart phone or computer access. (ZipCar has since added the ability to reserve via phone call.) Additionally, pandemic-related issues, especially in the senior communities, necessitated additional EV cleaning protocols.
On the program’s ongoing operation, Charkiewicz said that ZipCar has been an excellent partner. But she noted that even with this strong relationship there have still been technical challenges. For instance, the program initially sought a maximum three-hour vehicle use window, but such a restriction was not native to ZipCar. Therefore, someone had to monitor reservations to ensure that users abided by the limitation. ZipCar updated its platform to enable the three-hour restriction, but the platform redesign created a new challenge: there was now no “crosstalk” between the subsidized platform and the platform available to the general public. Charkiewicz affirmed, however, that the strength of the program’s relationship with ZipCar has allowed them to overcome these challenges.
Language barriers, while typically variable among (and within) communities, were overcome in multiple ways. Program literature was translated and visual representation of as much information as possible was created. There were also community meetings where natural language clustering occurred, facilitating real-time translation of the program representative’s information. Charkiewicz noted that at some meetings as many as four different such groups formed.
To accommodate members of the community unable to participate in OCCS due to age, disability, or lack of a driver’s license, OCCS launched the Community CarShare Representative (CCR) program. This incentivized, volunteer-based service connects CCRs with community members who need rides, which are provided in OCCS vehicles.
The program was initially free to community members, but it transitioned to a cost share model in February 2022. Members now share in the cost of rides, paying $4/hour. This transition required members to reestablish their membership; they could not be automatically transferred to the new platform. Membership and trips have declined because of this transition, and the program team is investigating ways to overcome this barrier.
The OCCS program has shown its utility to community residents, but ideally, for long-term success, a private organization and not SMAQMD would manage it. SMAQMD’s role could be to identify, fund, and manage the application of subsidy programs for reduced user cost within specific communities or for particular users.
The OCCS program provides a vital transportation mode for community residents, allowing them greater mobility. In addition, because these transit miles are electrified, the trips have lower emissions than a comparable trip in a conventional vehicle. Program users’ practical experiences with EVs might drive them to consider purchasing an EV in the future.
Charkiewicz noted that the costs associated with the initial installation of charging infrastructure are significant and hopes the value of these charging stations motivates communities to build out that infrastructure, if permitted under the funding model. She also stated that she hopes this program helps private companies see the value of serving disadvantaged communities more directly.
Charkiewicz concluded, “The OCCS is a dynamically managed program. As obstacles arise, the program team is confident that it can adjust to best serve the community.”