In the US, rental property is one of the biggest barriers to electric vehicle take up

An electric car charging point in San Francisco, 2010. Image: Getty.

Americans have now purchased more than 800,000 electric vehicles, counting both plug-in hybrids and all-electric models. That may sound like a lot of EVs, and it is a big jump from the less than 5,000 that were on the road in 2010. But this is still less than 1 per cent of all U.S. registered vehicles, despite the recent availability of longer-range, more affordable EV models like the Chevrolet Bolt.

Policymakers nonetheless see EVs as having great potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other forms of pollution, and are supporting tax credits and other policies to encourage people to buy EVs. California, for example, aims to have 5 million of them on its roads by 2030.

But to meet ambitious goals like that, EVs will need to stop being a niche product and appeal to as many drivers as possible.

I am an energy economist working on transportation policy, and I’ve looked at newly available data to try to understand why people purchase EVs. It turns out that renting a home may be one of the biggest barriers.

A striking difference

New federal data show that homeowners are more than three times more likely than renters to own an EV. And since 43m/a> U.S. households – 37 per cent of all households – rent their homes, it is worth thinking hard about why this gap exists.

By analysing the Transportation Department’s newly released 2017 National Household Travel Survey data, I found striking differences in EV ownership between homeowners and renters. In California, homeowners are three times more likely to own an EV than renters.

The gap is even wider for the rest of the U.S., where homeowners are six times more likely to own an EV than renters.

Income isn’t everything

You might be thinking that this gap is caused by income. It is true that EV ownership is higher for richer people, which is only natural since EVs cost more to buy than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles although charging them is cheaper than filling a tank.

But I learned that homeowners are more likely than renters to own EVs, even when they have similar income levels. For example, among households earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year, 1 in 130 homeowners owns an EV, compared to 1 in 370 renters.

Parking and charging

The other big difference between homeowners and renters is having a place to park.

Most homeowners have a garage, a driveway or both. That makes charging extremely convenient for them because they can charge their vehicles at night.

It’s not so easy, however, for many renters. Renters are more likely to live in multi-unit buildings and parking spots may not be assigned, or there may not be any parking spots at all. The federal data doesn’t provide any information about parking availability, but this likely helps explain the disparity between homeowners and renter EV ownership rates.

There is also the related question of charging equipment.

For homeowners, it is relatively straightforward to invest in a 240-volt outlet, electric panel upgrades and other improvements to speed up charging. These investments can cost $1,000 or more, but are a good investment for a homeowner planning to stay put.

Making this investment is trickier for renters, however. They may not want to invest their own money in a property they don’t own and their landlords may be unwilling to let them do it in any case due to liability and other concerns.

This quandary is what economists call a landlord-tenant problem. In theory, a landlord could make investments like this, and then charge higher rent to recoup the cost. In practice, however, this can get complicated.

Even if the current tenant has an EV – the next tenant may not. And if future tenants don’t have EVs then they won’t need – or appreciate – having charging equipment handy. Several studies, including work by economist Erica Myers, show that renters tend not to value the energy-related investments their landlords make.

Public support for charging

California policymakers are well aware of these challenges and that is a big reason why they are investing heavily in charging stations. The state is spending $2.5bn to bring 250,000 charging stations statewide by 2025. Each of these stations will support several EVs, so this will make charging much easier for EV owners.

Much of this funding will cover the cost of building charging stations in communities with a lot of renters. The big utility Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, is making multifamily residences a high priority as it builds thousands of new charging stations across the state. As this charging infrastructure grows, the EV market is bound to expand as well.

I’m eager to see whether these investments will narrow the homeowner-renter gap.

While writing this article, I searched on the Zillow real estate website for rental listings in San Francisco and could find only four apartments that mentioned EV charging as an amenity.

The ConversationThis isn’t many compared to the more than 1,000 of the apartments on the market, but I have no doubt that there will be many more landlords giving their tenants a place to plug in their cars as more renters buy EVs in the near future.

Lucas Davis, Professor at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.