Electric cars won’t do much to reduce CO2 emissions if most people can’t afford them. And even if every car became electric overnight, we’d still have to contend with our worsening problem of road congestion.
But what if you could regularly use an electric car to get around without having to buy one? What if, in addition to promoting EV sales as it does now, the federal government were to fund electric-car-sharing programs?
Nonprofits in several US cities are modeling this idea, in the form of city-assisted pilot programs priced to compete with private-sector car-sharing services such as Zipcar. In Boston, a new service called Good2Go offers EV sharing on an income-tiered price scale.
Founded and initially funded by a Framingham-based clean energy nonprofit, E4TheFuture — with the help of a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center — Good2Go will soon have four Nissan Leafs and four Chevy Bolts available at charging stations in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. If you receive any social safety net services like SNAP or Medicaid, you’re automatically eligible for $5 per hour pricing. Otherwise, the rate for car use is $10 per hour. (By contrast, Zipcar rates start at $8.50 an hour, but you also have to pay a membership fee of $7 a month or $70 a year.)
Drivers use a smartphone app to book one of the cars for a time slot and then pick up the car, run their errands, and plug it back into the charging station. All drivers are protected by insurance that’s tied to the vehicle they rent and drive.
West Roxbury resident Zoraida Gonzalez is one of the pioneering users of Good2Go. “A few months ago, someone rear-ended me and totaled my vehicle,” Gonzalez explains. She had run into delays being approved for a Zipcar membership. So after learning about Good2Go through Union Capital Boston, a community-engagement organization, Gonzalez decided to try EV sharing for local trips like grocery shopping and taking her dog to the vet.
“I do like the fact that it is electric. That’s pretty cool,” Gonzalez says. Even when she eventually buys a new car — which she says will be a hybrid, ideally — Gonzalez says she will still use Good2Go regularly for local errands, saving her car for longer trips or emergencies.
After talking to Gonzalez, I decided to take one of the Good2Go EVs on a midday, midweek mission to the Stoughton IKEA, just beyond the reach of the MBTA. I booked 24 hours in advance, and on the appointed day and time I found two white Nissan Leafs with the Good2Go logo splashed across the doors plugged into a charging terminal at 737 Centre Street, a short walk from my apartment. I unlocked one of them with the mobile app, and within a couple of minutes, I was cruising down Blue Hill Avenue toward I-93.
Every turn of the wheel was smooth. Other than a stray crumb and dust bunny, the vehicle interior looked as clean as any mainstream rental. The cars are washed and vacuumed by a fleet associate, who also monitors the Good2Go stations to ensure that the vehicles have been plugged into the charger. After procuring a contoured memory foam pillow and some pickled herring from IKEA, I drove back to JP. The Leaf battery had dipped from 100 percent to 78 percent. I had driven 37 miles and had the car for two hours. All told, the rental cost me $20.
If I wanted to buy my own Leaf for such trips, I’d be looking at $32,620, although federal tax credits would reduce that by $7,500.
If demand for Good2Go EVs grows, E4TheFuture will have to scale up by offering more vehicles in more locations. This would test the fiscal limits of the nonprofit, which is subsidizing the rentals in order to offer EV sharing at an affordable price. Susan Buchan, director of energy projects at E4TheFuture, believes that a public-private partnership would allow EV sharing services like Good2Go to reach their potential.
“To make this viable for not just low-income communities but also for people who live in the city and don’t want a car, or who only need a car occasionally, it’s probably going to take a broader state program,” Buchan says.
Cities mindful of emissions and congestion could take ownership of this concept and replicate the Good2Go model on a much larger scale. Congress could grease the wheels by offering grants to states that are game for establishing their own EV-sharing programs. With sufficient investment, this would mean a bigger, more widely distributed fleet of EVs and a better user experience for people like Gonzalez, who would no longer have to find a way to commute to Good2Go EVs in neighborhoods beyond her own. As Buchan points out, apartment complexes and business districts are logical places to put more EVs.
A public EV-sharing program would also be better positioned to offer long-term prices low enough to persuade some Americans to forgo owning a second car — or even a first one. It’s one thing to embrace EV sharing as a stopgap for people who can’t afford to buy their own EV. But it would be more audacious and progressive to make EV sharing affordable and easy enough to inspire people to question car ownership as the default. Because today, we’re suffering from the logical conclusion of that idea. The proof is on the interstate, local roads, and in the atmosphere.
Good2Go will have four Nissan Leafs and four Chevy Bolts, not eight Nissan Leafs as previously reported.
Miles Howard is a freelance journalist in Boston. Follow him on Twitter @milesperhoward.