Historical Contexts and Considerations for EV Promotion in Diverse Communities

February 4, 2021

Virginia Clean Cities has recently started work with the award-winning e-mobility best practice and e-mobility equity organization EVNoire. EVNoire is a national organization known for its work on electro-mobility (e-mobility), transportation, energy and environmental equity. Their mission is to use a data driven approach to facilitate and accelerate equitable multi-modal electrification utilizing best practice in e-mobility and equity. The EVNoire team works to ensure that all communities have access to clean transportation and e-mobility options.

On the topic of e-mobility, EVNoire explains that mobility is more than just getting from point A to point B, it also encompasses how transportation provides access. This includes access to healthcare, education, employment, economic development, residential mobility and environmental quality. This access is steeped in history. In order to best serve diverse communities, it is important to understand the historical contexts of e-mobility and how they have facilitated and led to the inequalities we see today. Recently, EVNoire shared some of their expertise on the historical contexts of transportation and their recommendations for EV education and implementation and outreach in communities.

Historical Context

The history of transportation has been and still is separate and unequal. During the Great Migration from 1916 to 1970, six million African-Americans left the Jim Crow South in search of better opportunities. During this time the “Green Book” was published as a guide for Black travelers to help them safely navigate highways, gas stations and hotels. Transportation has also played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement, including Plessy vs. Furgeson, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Freedom Riders.This history has shaped how these diverse communities experience transportation, and it is important to realize that our experiences with transportation and e-mobility may differ from others. 

Today, frontline communities are still experiencing inequalities including displacement, historical and systemic inequities, spatial mismatch and transportation burdens. Displacement refers to the placement of transportation corridors that divided communities of color, and redlining which is the legal practice of denying home loans and limiting homeownership and access to certain neighborhoods to African American and Latinx consumers. These practices drove down property values and reduced access to public services, resulting in poorly resourced communities dissected by heavy-duty transportation corridors. This has often resulted in spatial mismatches where many members of these African American and Latinx communities are located far away from economic and employment opportunities which leads to patterns of unemployment. With these historical contexts in mind, we can begin to address the systemic inequalities and inequities that exist in transportation today.

Current Considerations

In 2020 there are 1.7 million EVs on the road in the United States. However, there is a huge gap in the diversity of EV ownership. EVs and their benefits are disproportionately spread across the population as a result of the inequities of the last century. The benefits of addressing diversity, equity and e-mobility include opportunities to reduce existing inequalities and prevent new ones from emerging and increase environmental justice, economic development and health benefits. 

EVNoire’s co-founder Dr. Shelley Francis has a particular interest in the role of transportation and public health. Exposure to vehicle emissions can negatively impact one’s health, and race and income are indicators of health outcomes. Recent research has shown that about 70% of African American communities are living in areas that are overexposed to pollution for which they did not create. The leading reason why African American and Latinx children are admitted to the emergency room is related to chronic asthma which is associated with overexposure to vehicle emissions These disparities have also been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

People of color use public transportation more than their white counterparts, however when it comes to federal transportation funding for every $0.80 spent on highways, only $0.20 is spent on public transportation. Additionally, these transportation costs are particularly burdensome for low-income households. Underserved households spend nearly 30% of their income on transportation while the average consumer spends 16% on average. 

According to Terry Travis, managing partner of EVNoire,

 “Understanding the historical context of transportation in the United States provides the opportunity to disrupt the current EV Narrative and 100 plus years of habit with fossil fuels with those hit first and worst.”

Terry Travis, EVNoire

EVNoire’s Recommendations

It is important to realize that African American and Latinx communities themselves are inherently diverse. To engage these groups you must create culturally authentic strategies that avoid stereotyping and treating all diverse communities in the same way. Every group will have different education, backgrounds, experiences and socio-economic situations. One should not assume that African American, Latinx and Indigenous communities equate to low income communities. 

Authentic engagement includes culturally relevant and informed resources. It is not enough and it is not a best practice to repurpose previous outreach materials or to use Google Translate to reach Spanish-speaking communities. While Google Translate can be helpful for a quick translation here and there, it is not meant to be used as a fully fledged translation service. Translation is about more than just the words you are saying, it is also about who you are saying them to. Therefore, in addition to language translation, cultural understanding is also necessary. In these cases, EVNoire has a dedicated team for Latinx engagement.

When it comes to looking to expand the capacities for EVs within frontline communities it is important to recognize that their priorities may be different than our own. For example, these communities may not have an aversion to EVs, but rather they may have a lack of awareness. This also extends to partnerships with other organizations whose missions may not prioritize EVs. In this case, it is important to find the right partners rather than trying to force the will of other organizations to prioritize EVs. 

Furthermore, the messenger matters just as much as the message. If a community has access to information about EVs from someone with a similar background or experience it can help an organization forge relationships based on trust. This is also where the importance of EV “ride and drive” programs come in because people are able to experience the technology firsthand and see the options available to them. 

When approaching EVs in environmental justice communities there is a large focus on access to vehicle charging and costs. It can be useful to partner with utilities to identify gaps such as charging deserts and multi-family dwellings without access to outlets. EV infrastructure can serve communities better when it is dual use, where individuals can park to charge and spend time such as at parks, stores or shopping centers. As a result, there has to be an investment to build infrastructure that prioritizes access and will effectively service the communities it is built in. 

Engaging with stakeholders can help organizations determine what will work best for communities and to raise awareness of the technologies. If an organization deploys chargers without taking these factors into consideration, they can lose credibility in these communities, thus making future engagement all the more challenging.