Cities Turn to Virtual Electric Vehicle Education in 2020

Electric vehicle (EV) drivers are often incredibly enthusiastic about their cars. It’s not just about keeping the air clean and reducing climate warming emissions: it’s also about lower costs at the pump and fewer maintenance needs, year after year. For all of these reasons, cities across the United States—including many of the 25 cities participating in the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge—have launched efforts to increase electric vehicle adoption.

New public EV charger ribbon cutting at Findlay Market in Cincinnati for National Drive Electric Week

Cities are facing a number of stubborn barriers in this effort, including awareness that these cars exist. Despite significant efforts by policymakers and advocates over the past several years, researchers have found that few car owners can name an electric vehicle make and model, think there are enough charging stations, or know about available purchasing incentives.

More promising, however, is research finding that attitudes toward EVs improve as people learn more about their benefits, such as not needing oil changes, or get to experience personally driving one. Until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person events of all kinds, advocates and practitioners relied on “ride and drive” events that invited people to experience the benefits of an EV first hand. Researchers have found this approach to be quite effective: surveys indicate participants are more likely to purchase an EV after a test drive and, in California, 15 percent of participants in one ride-and-drive series purchased or leased an EV within 6 months of doing a test drive. In other words, seeing is believing.

Electric Vehicle Education Goes Virtual

This week is typically known as “National Drive Electric Week,” a time when hundreds of EV test drive events would be happening nationwide, with EV owners, dealerships, non-profits, cities, and other partners coming together to help thousands of drivers get behind the wheel of an EV for the first time. This year, of course, an event based on sharing vehicles with strangers is out of the question, so cities and their partners have sought out new creative approaches to continue advancing EV awareness virtually.

Here’s how some of the cities participating in the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge and their partners celebrated National Drive Electric Week virtually:

  • St. Petersburg, FL: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) Driving on Sunshine campaign has been offering first-hand test driving experiences in EVs to people throughout Florida and the Southeast since 2019. Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, SACE pivoted to offering virtual “ride along” experiences by video as well as live question and answer sessions with interested drivers. This National Drive Electric Week, SACE is continuing its partnership with the City of St. Petersburg through the Climate Challenge to offer a virtual ride along and promote a new video series, “EVs are for EVeryone,” that highlights fuel and maintenance savings, the availability of affordable used EVs, and more to bust the myth that EVs are too expensive for all but the wealthiest residents. The virtual event was also an opportunity to highlight many EV initiatives from the City, including a new green fleet policy and an EV readiness code update. 
  • Orlando, FL: Through its partnership with the City of Orlando, the Electrification Coalition, and the Climate Challenge, the Orlando Utilities Commission is launching a brand new Electrified Dealer Program this week. A first of its kind for the region, this program will provide EV purchase incentives for both dealers and buyers. While dealers are the front lines of consumer education for EVs, they have been notoriously reluctant to market electric options, which can leave potential buyers feeling discouraged. By offering incentives to both buyers and dealers, training for salespeople, and virtual educational experiences, the Electrified Dealer Program will seek to upend this challenge in the Orlando region. The Orlando Utilities Commission has also announced a series of new smart charging hubs for the region, as result of a partnership that netted $500,000 in awards by the state’s VW Settlement funding. The project is already underway, and a new EV charging mobility hub will be located on OUC-owned land next to Ace Cafe, a popular downtown destination. The site will feature up to 22 fast charging stations, including 16 fast chargers for Teslas. Both of these announcements are complemented by several additional City-led EV initiatives underway, including the development of 100 public charging stations, a new EV readiness code, and the electrification of the City’s bus fleet.
  • Indianapolis, IN: The City of Indianapolis—in partnership with its Clean Cities Coalition, and Forth Mobility through the Climate Challenge—offered a two-day virtual workshop on workplace charging for Indiana employers and municipalities this week. Workplace charging is an important element in the EV charging ecosystem, offering a key opportunity for EVs to charge while drivers are at work. Originally planned to be an in-person event, the workshop used a new platform that seeks to mimic the in-person conference experience by offering networking opportunities and an “exhibitors hall” where participants could connect with vendors and local installers to help get their projects off the ground.
  • San Antonio, TX: The City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability partnered with the Alamo Area Council of Governments and Forth Mobility to put on a series of events focused on EV basics, the EV landscape in Texas, and electric mobility options beyond the personal vehicle, such as electric bikes, trucks, buses. Even though it was entirely online, Monday’s event was more like a traditional Drive Electric Day, featuring local EV owners talking about their vehicles and walking people through the basics of charging. Tuesday was focused on how utilities and local governments promote EVs in San Antonio, Austin, Houston and also featured an exciting new statewide partnership. Finally, Thursday highlighted micromility, buses, and trucks, including a representative from Navistar, which just announced a new electric manufacturing facility in San Antonio.
  • Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati also hosted a series of events, with an event each day of National Drive Electric Week designed to speak to different audiences and build on the City’s unique peer to peer EV ambassador program, which was launched earlier this year. This week’s events highlighted new public chargers at cultural and iconic institutions in Cincinnati such as the Art Museum and Findlay Market to raise awareness about the ability to drive electric and charge at public stations throughout the city. One event focused on Cincinnati's “e-bike revolution,” showcasing another more affordable electric mobility option that has been taking off over the past few months.

As EVs Become More Affordable, an Increasing Focus on Equity and Access

COVID-19 has highlighted the links between air pollution and public health as well as the disproportionate burden of transportation pollution and associated negative public health outcomes that frontline communities face. As Dr. Shelley Francis of EVHybridNoire, the nation’s largest multicultural network of diverse EV owners and enthusiasts, has emphasized, “beyond the financial insulation from varying gasoline/fuel costs, EVs and other multimodal clean transportation options provide a significant public health opportunity to mitigate frontline communities exposure to vehicle emissions.” Over time, EVs are becoming less expensive and more used models are becoming available. In line with this trend, many of this year’s events also focus on equity and expanding access to the benefits of electric mobility options:

  • Seattle, WA: In Seattle, local credit union ExpressCU partnered with local environmental justice organization ECOSS to offer a Spanish-language virtual event about the benefits of EVs in general and ExpressCU’s innovative EV fair financing program in particular. In addition to the challenges noted above around education for potential EV drivers and dealers alike, buyers who have poor or no credit frequently experience discriminatory practices when buying a vehicle and getting access to financing. As a result, early pilots in Seattle, Portland, California, and more are working to offer “fair financing” programs with lower interest rates, financial education, EV education, and down payment assistance to enable affordable access to used EVs to more communities.
  • San Jose and Los Angeles, CA: Both San Jose and LA partnered with Forth Mobility, rideshare companies, and other stakeholders to offer English and Spanish language educational events about EVs for rideshare drivers. Rideshare drivers, who are often lower income and frequently drive many more miles than a typical driver, stand to benefit from EV cost savings, particularly in these two cities where purchasing incentives are generous and charging is abundantly available.

About the Authors

Kelly Blynn

Electric Vehicle Technical Strategist, American Cities Climate Challenge

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