Here are the cities that are leading in electrifying transportation

EV charging in front of city
Shutterstock Matej Kastelic

Over 5 million electric vehicles (EV) were on the road at the end of 2018, in the form of electric cars, trucks and buses. In 2018, 2 million of those EVs were added, reported the IEA.

Vehicle electrification is likely a key strategy in decarbonization, from your business climate strategy or your city’s sustainability plan. For one, it improves efficiency. Charging often can be timed to take advantage of available wind and solar power.

The electrification of mobility is about more than just cars. For decades, hundreds of millions have been riding electrified rail, including light-rail, commuter rail and high-speed rail. We have 500,000 electric buses globally. From forklifts to delivery trucks, goods movement is also being electrified. In addition, over 260 million electric bicycles are on the road. I see it every day, as my wife and I ride electric rail, electric buses, share one electric car and ride our two electric pedal-assist bicycles.

Some critics have dismissed EVs, claiming a coal power plant is at the other end of the plugged-in vehicle. However, in the United States, most EVs are being charged in states with high-growth of renewables. Using solar power, millions are riding on sunlight. As we shift away from burning gasoline and diesel, our air becomes cleaner, and it becomes easier to achieve ambitious carbon reduction goals. Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle provide good examples of cities advancing EVs at the same time that they increasing use renewable energy and reducing total carbon emissions.

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, about 100,000 electric vehicles are on the road. Most of these are cars and SUVs: 46,000 battery-electric, 36,000 plug-in hybrids and 2,000 fuel-cell EV. Many of these cars are charged with solar, others with California’s mix of 36 percent renewables (PDF). By law, California is to use 100 percent renewables by 2045.

Daily, 1.2 million rides on LA Metro’s electric subway, electric light-rail, and buses. LA Metro covers 80 cities in Los Angeles County’s 4,751 square miles. LA Metro is challenged with its vast geography and annual ridership of 1.5 billion passenger miles. In 2028, it will have the added challenge of hosting the Summer Olympics.

I talked with Rick Jager, LA Metro communications manager, about their future. Two years ago, the board of LA Metro approved replacing its fleet of 2,300 CNG buses with zero-emission buses. After evaluating hydrogen fuel-cell and renewable gas alternatives, it plans to replace all 2,300 buses with 100 percent electric by 2030, provided batteries continue to drop in price and improve in longevity. By the end of 2020, LA Metro’s bus rapid transit (BRT) Orange Line will be serviced with forty 60-foot electric buses. By the end of 2021, the Silver Line BRT will be serviced with sixty 40-foot electric buses.

The city of Los Angeles is electrifying its entire vehicle fleet. What happens in Los Angeles won’t stay in Los Angeles. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Climate Mayors’ Purchasing Collaborative, an online platform and resource portal that guides and encourages city leaders to obtain EVs for municipal fleets, not just in L.A., but nationwide. With Garcetti as the new chair of C40 Cities, L.A.’s impact will be global. 

Increased transit, shuttles and ride services reduce the need for parking spaces. Los Angeles voters approved a $1.2 billion bond to create new housing for the homeless when they approved Proposition HHH in 2016. Construction for homeless housing is planned on several existing city-owned parking lots, with 24 city-owned lots to be offered for low-income developers. Converting parking to low-income housing is attracting both strong support and fierce opposition.

About half of all-electric vehicles in the United States are in California. The state has committed to have 5 million electric vehicles on its roads by 2030. Vehicle rebates and vast networks of public charging are encouraging adoption. Back in 2011, my wife and I bought an all-electric Nissan Leaf despite our concerns about the $40,000 cost and the vehicle range. A federal tax credit of $7,500, a California rebate of $5,000, public charging and HOV access all made a difference.

By law, California is committed to be carbon neutral by 2045. A key to this is electrifying all transportation and powering all with renewables.

New York

In New York City, density creates a tapestry of 6,000 high rise buildings woven together with integrated mobility that includes subways, buses, ridesharing, ferries and bike lanes. New Yorkers ride 5.5 million passenger miles daily on their electric subway system. Bus ridership is over 750 million passenger miles on its 5,700 buses, making New York the largest bus fleet in the nation. New York MTA plans to convert all of its buses to electric by 2040. (Most are currently diesel, 1,700 are hybrid-electric and a few are battery electric.)

New York state has the target of carbon neutrality by 2050. The mandate includes electricity generation to be 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. Much of it is from hydropower and nuclear sources. The state plans for significant offshore wind power, energy efficiency and solar power.

Only 10,000 drive electric vehicles are in New York City presently, but the city has an aggressive goal of 20 percent of cars being electric by 2025. Charging will be a challenge, as New York state expands from 2,000 public charging stations today to 10,000 by the goal of 2021.

Uber and Lyft both plan to expand from their current e-bike and e-scooter services to electric cars.

Seattle

Seattle plans to achieve 30 percent EV adoption by 2030 and have a 100 percent electric municipal fleet by 2030. In 2016, voters approved $54 billion for its regional transit authority Sound Transit (PDF) to expand its electric light rail fivefold over 25 years to 116 miles and add miles of BRT. The region’s King County Metro transit agency plans to electrify all of its 1,400-bus fleet by 2040. Seattle City Light is our nation’s first utility to be carbon-neutral (since 2005). Electric transportation is powered by renewables.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is a longtime environmentalist and author of the classic "Apollo’s Fire." He supports a regional power grid where Washington and British Columbia’s hydropower can be shared with other western states and provinces. In turn, these states benefit from solar power generated in California, Arizona and New Mexico, and wind power generated from Colorado to Wyoming. It will be a political challenge to create a regional ISO. Such leadership will accelerate achieving Washington’s goal of being powered with 100 percent renewables.

Seattle, in particular, is doubling its economy as it continues to eliminate fossil fuels from energy and transportation. By 2050, Seattle could achieve its goal of being a sustainable carbon-neutral city.

Renewable energy replaces gasoline and diesel

The success of EVs and renewables in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle is mirrored in many cities and regions across our nation.

By 2030, we could have 130 million to 250 million EVs on the road globally (IEA Global EV Outlook). How quickly we grow will depend on many factors: early success in cities and fleets; policies; continued subsidies of oil; subsidies for EV and public charging; and continued drop in the price of batteries, solar and wind.

Electric vehicle use is growing at the same time that renewable energy is growing. Some of our electric rides will be in cars. Most electric rides are on electric rail and electric bikes. 

One trend is clear — every year, more people are riding on sunlight.