With flashy (and expensive) Teslas on the road, electric vehicles can get a bit of a reputation for being the transportation choice of the wealthy. Austin Energy is trying to change that.
With its new “EVs are for EVeryone” campaign, our city’s electric utility is working on electric vehicle outreach and programming for all Austinites, with a focus on low- to moderate-income communities.
The first part of this is simply education and messaging. More affordable electric vehicles options (from a wide array of car manufacturers) are rapidly coming onto the market. And as Amy Atchley (senior project lead in the electric vehicles and emerging technologies department of Austin Energy) explained during an interview with the Austin EcoNetwork, used electric vehicles are also becoming more available. “And the auto dealers are telling us those cars are flying off the lots,” Amy said. “And it’s because you can get such a great deal.”
On top of that, Austin Energy offers the Plug-In EVerwhere program for electric vehicle drivers, which provides unlimited charging at any of the city’s more than 250 charging stations for less than $5 a month.
In addition to education, Austin Energy is trying to build equity into the very foundation of its new electric vehicle programs. Amy’s job at the utility is actually grant-funded by the 11th Hour Project to do just that.
“We’re not just trying to design programs of what we think would be great,” Amy said. “We’re actually working in the community. We’re getting firsthand feedback from those who are impacted to help us in the program design, so that we’re putting projects out there… where it’s really needed and wanted.”
Austin Energy is still in the early days of this process, but one initiative to already emerge is the new EVs for Schools program.
EVs for Schools, which launched last year, brings electric vehicle charging stations to local schools in conjunction with a science-based electric vehicle curriculum. Students are able to collect data and measure usage at the charging station, as well as see it in action in their own community.
Several other programs addressing electric bicycle usage and rideshare for electric vehicles are still in the works, but as Amy emphasized, with all of these efforts, “It really is about health and wellness. It’s about looking at some systemic issues that have created a particular environment, systemic racism being one of them.” And then asking ourselves, “…You know, how are we going to be a new Austin?”.
Inspired? Here’s how you can get involved:
- Are you a teacher who’s interesting in bringing the EVs for Schools curriculum to your classroom? Even if you don’t have a charging station at your school, you can still gain access to the curriculum. All you have to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Austin Energy is looking for people to become electric vehicle champions! Amy recommends that people who are passionate follow Austin Energy’s Electric Vehicle program on social media. If you’re a leader of a local community organization, you can also reach out to her directly (at email@example.com) and Austin Energy will come to your next meeting/social gathering.
- Electric vehicles will be a major part of the next update to Austin’s Community Climate Plan (which is the plan that’s trying to get us to zero carbon emissions by 2050). If you’d like to get more involved with the Community Climate Plan, you can attend an upcoming meeting of the city’s Joint Sustainability Committee. Meeting information is available here.