Indiana University researchers rank U.S. cities' readiness for plug-in electric vehicles

  • March 14, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Portland, Ore., is ranked at the top of a list of major U.S. cities that are the most ready to accommodate plug-in electric vehicles, known as PEVs, such as the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S.  

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs developed a ranking of municipal "PEV readiness" to contrast the variation in readiness among different cities. The evaluation ranked the nation’s 25 largest cities by population along with five other large cities that have been included in other major PEV studies. The rankings also included the largest cities in states that have joined California in offering a package of incentives to reach an ambitious zero-emissions vehicle goal.

The Obama administration and policymakers in several states have provided financial and other incentives to encourage consumers to buy PEVs, but sales have fallen short of goals. PEV advocates say getting more of the cars on the road will enhance U.S. energy security by reducing dependence on imported oil and cutting greenhouse gas and other emissions.

"With gas prices dropping, consumers have less of a financial incentive to buy a PEV," researcher Kyle Clark-Sutton said. "It is crucial for cities to create receptive policy environments for purchasing and operating an electric car. If they don’t, we won’t see the technology’s promise as a means of climate change mitigation fully realized."

Under a scoring system devised by the research team, Portland, Washington, D.C., New York City, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Denver comprise the top six cities. All six offer purchase incentives for PEVs and charging equipment. Four of the six offer time-of-use electricity rates, which makes overnight charging more affordable. The top-ranking cities also score well in categories such as public charging station density, special parking privileges and high-occupancy-vehicle lane access.

"Some cities are doing more to encourage PEV ownership than others by installing new public charging infrastructure and offering various sorts of incentives," researcher Saba Siddiki said. "PEV owners enjoy free parking in downtown Nashville and are exempt from all parking fees in Honolulu. Portland, Oregon, has streamlined the often complicated permitting process for home-based chargers. In Austin, PEV drivers can subscribe to unlimited use of 250 public charging stations located around the city for less than $5 per month."

Those services and incentives are largely absent from the bottom six cities: Charlotte, N.C.; El Paso, Texas; Detroit; Portland, Maine; Providence, R.I.; and Columbus, Ohio.

“If a city and state are not offering policies to make PEV ownership more attractive, it may be difficult for car dealers in those states to move vehicles off the showroom floors,” researcher Sanya Carley said.

The researchers note that the fall in gas prices is just one aspect of a fast-changing economic and political environment affecting PEV sales and regulations. Connecticut, for example, just added monetary incentives for purchasers, and Georgia removed them. Some states are enacting higher fees on PEV registration, claiming drivers don’t pay fuel taxes to support road construction and repair.

The researchers conclude that purchasing a PEV is more expensive than a conventional vehicle, even though operating it can be less expensive. Therefore if policies that reduce the purchase price and incentivize the operation of a PEV are not implemented, nor are cities prepared to offer the institutional support for PEVs, consumers will continue to favor conventional cars and trucks.

The article "Plug-in electric vehicle readiness: Rating cities in the United States" was published in Electricity Journal with a goal of informing policymakers and consumers while providing a helpful tool to other researchers studying PEV policy. The research team includes two recent SPEA graduates -- Kyle Clark-Sutton, an economist with the Center for Environmental, Technology and Energy Economics at RTI International, and Celeste Wanner, a research analyst at the American Wind Energy Association -- and SPEA faculty members Saba Siddiki, Sanya Carley, John Rupp and John D. Graham.

The full ranking of the 36 cities in 25 states included in this index:

  1. Portland, Ore.
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Baltimore
  4. New York City
  5. Denver
  6. Los Angeles
  7. Atlanta
  8. Chicago
  9. Austin, Texas
  10. San Francisco
  11. Boston
  12. Houston
  13. Indianapolis
  14. Orlando, Fla.
  15. San Diego
  16. Seattle
  17. San Jose, Calif.
  18. Hartford, Conn.
  19. Phoenix
  20. Fort Worth, Texas
  21. Honolulu
  22. Nashville, Tenn.
  23. Dallas
  24. Jacksonville, Fla.
  25. Newark, N.J.
  26. Raleigh, N.C.
  27. Burlington, Vt.
  28. Philadelphia
  29. San Antonio
  30. Charlotte, N.C.
  31. Memphis, Tenn.
  32. Detroit
  33. El Paso, Texas
  34. Portland, Maine
  35. Providence, R.I.
  36. Columbus, Ohio  
A plug-in electric vehicle power port

A plug-in electric vehicle power port | Photo by Creative Commons

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Emily Cox

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