Should Your City Have Public Electric Vehicle Charging?

With reports that electric vehicles sales are low, and EV drivers charging at home, do local governments need to implement public electric vehicle charging?

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Transportation announced $4.5 billion in loan guarantees to spur commercial development of vehicle charging facilities.

The White House is gathering as many partners as possible to promote further adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and charging infrastructure to reduce reliance on petroleum and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Fed wants state, county and municipal governments to not only support consumer electric vehicle charging, but also do more to procure electric vehicle fleets.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 26 percent of 2014 GHG emissions come from cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes. Cities and suburbs account for vast GHG emissions, and electric vehicles have the potential to greatly reduce these numbers.

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That’s why cities and local governments across the country update zoning and parking policies, building codes and permitting to accommodate plug-in vehicles. According to the DOE Electric Vehicle Charging Station Locations map, there are nearly 14,000 public charging stations across the U.S.

But last year the Seattle Times found that public electric-car charging stations sit idle most of the time. Most people’s daily driving is within their electric or hybrid car’s range, so they charge at home.

And last month, the Boston Globe insisted that car buyers are pulling the plug on electric cars. According to, “nearly 75 percent of the people who have traded in a hybrid or electric car to a dealer have replaced it with an all-gas car, an 18 percent jump from 2015.” What are they doing? Switching back to SUVs, with almost every car segment suffering.

“It’s especially true for hybrids and EVs, which generally don’t offer the size that today’s shoppers crave,” said Jessica Caldwell,’s director of industry analysis.

This is not the whole story, according to Jeff Allen, executive director of the EV trade association Drive Oregon.

EV sales actually grow year-over-year, and 2016 has actually been a hot year for EVs.

“About 64,296 new electric cars have hit the road thus far, good for a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2015,” reported

“The key thing is to tease out impact on hybrid versus electric vehicle sales,” said Allen, explaining that consumers decide to buy hybrids based on the cost-benefit factor. “When is the car going to pay for itself?” When gas prices are low, the cost-benefit analysis has some consumers giving up their hybrids.

According to the DOE, hybrid sales had declined in 2014 and 2015 because of them:

public electric vehicle charging is affected by hybrid vehicle sales, which are shown in this chart.
Image: U.S. DOE

But with EVs, saving money is not the only factor in consumer purchase decisions. The models and the maintenance of each type of vehicle are totally different, and local governments should not base their decisions on implementing public electrical vehicle charging stations based on jumping gas prices, said Allen.

Gas is always much higher and much more volatile than electric prices. From a local government perspective, the safe money is on electricity being more stable over the long-term,” he said.

However, a Drive Oregon consumer focus group last week revealed how little the average consumer knows about driving electric.

Accelerating consumer demand for EVs is going to require public education by cities receiving EV incentives, the federal government giving them and the auto industry.

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