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How can cities encourage a shift to electric vehicles? Look to Austin

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Imagine you’re about to buy a new car. You care about the climate and keeping the air clean, and you know that electric vehicles are gaining popularity, but could you really make the switch?

In some places, there are a lot of potential barriers in your way, from the high upfront cost of many EVs to the worry of finding a place to charge. But our new local EV policy toolkit, created with Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, describes how local governments have a big role to play in reducing those barriers to clean transportation.

Austin, Texas, is a great example. Austin residents have access to thousands of charging ports powered by 100% renewable energy, and can save money on EVs through a variety of rebates and funding programs, making purchasing an electric vehicle an easy choice.

Austin’s electric utility, Austin Energy, has played a major role in the transition to electric vehicles in the city and beyond. As early as 2001, Austin Energy began developing a reputation as a leader in renewable energy by creating the GreenChoice program, the top program in the country for buying electricity from renewable sources. In 2006, the city began promoting EVs through the Plug-In Partners National Campaign, a national grassroots campaign made up of local governments, utilities and environmental organizations. Those efforts ran into a roadblock: automakers were not bringing new electric vehicles to market. In an effort to change that, Austin Energy demonstrated that there was a market by talking to fleet managers and businesses and securing promises to buy EVs when they became available. In doing so, Austin Energy played a role in promoting the growth of EVs not just in Texas, but across the whole country.

Austin Energy has also led in providing places for those EVs to charge. If you live in Austin, you’re never too far away from an EV charger. In 2011, Austin Energy created the Plug-in EVerywhere network, which supplies charging stations throughout the area. This program currently has over 1,000 charging ports available for an affordable monthly subscription and offers rebates for residents to install charging stations at home. All of these stations are powered by 100% renewable energy from local wind farms. Austin Energy also started a program that brings EV charging stations to Austin public schools for staff, students, parents and visitors. As part of the effort, the schools receive informational materials about electric vehicles, educating the next generation of drivers on the environmental and health benefits of going electric.

The city of Austin has also led by example by setting ambitious goals for its own fleet, which consists of 200 electric vehicles with plans to purchase more. In 2014, the City Council passed a resolution to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions city-wide by 2050, which included recommendations on how to further EV adoption and build electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The plan includes installing solar panels over charging stations to power electric vehicles with renewable energy. Austin also has 12 electric transit buses, and will begin purchasing only electric buses by 2022, resulting in a fully electric transit bus fleet by 2032. In preparation, Austin’s transit agency is building charging infrastructure to accommodate nearly 200 fully electric transit buses.

The policies that Austin has implemented have made the city a national leader in supporting electric vehicles. But if the United States is to transition to EVs quickly, every city needs to follow Austin’s example.

Our new toolkit provides examples of important policies and programs that Austin and other leading cities have adopted to make it easier to buy and own an EV. By taking those steps, local governments around the country can make the switch to clean, electric vehicles an easy choice for everyone.

Photo credit: Roschetzky Photography via Shutterstock.com