By Yiming Fu
WASHINGTON – Surrounded by a dozen electric buses and a few other electric vehicles outside the Department of Transportation building Wednesday, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called on Congress to fund electric vehicle initiatives—especially in polluted and low-income communities.
Consumers have been turning to electric vehicles as they reduce fuel costs and carbon emissions. In 2020, 1.1 million battery-powered passenger vehicles were on U.S. roads, according to the International Energy Agency. The industry has also expanded beyond passenger vehicles to battery-powered motorcycles, buses, delivery and garbage trucks, Buttigieg said.
“The question is: how do we make sure that EVs are accessible to all Americans?” Buttigieg said. “Especially those who would benefit the most from the fuel savings, which includes people in underserved parts of cities and in rural areas?”
Malina Sandhu, business development director for Lion Electric Co. –– a zero-emissions electric school bus manufacturer –– said making electric vehicles affordable is an equity issue.
“When electric cars came out, they were expensive,” she said. “And people thought EVs were only for higher (income) demographics.”
According to Sandhu, low-income communities, communities of color and residents living in polluted neighborhoods near highways and airports need EVs the most because they live with noise and air pollution, but charging infrastructure for EVs is often not found in these communities.
Lion Electric Co. is working to bring its school buses to diverse communities, Sandhu said.
But Jackie Piero, vice president of policy at Nuvve Corp., which develops charging stations, said electric school buses cost three times more than current buses.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill before Congress includes a $7.5 billion investment in electric vehicle charging and more than $10 billion for zero and low-emission buses. If passed, this money would bolster the country’s EV infrastructure to be internationally competitive, and it would connect more Americans with EVs.
Orville Thomas, Lion Electric lobbyist, said federal funding from the bill is key to getting electric buses into more communities.
“That is going to help communities get to a point in a post-COVID world where they have the ability to spend,” Thomas said. “And not in a program that says, ‘Okay, you (school districts) pay for it first and then we (the federal government) will pay you back,’ but a program that says, ‘We’ll make it easy for you on the regulatory side and we’re giving you the funding to get buses into communities and full of children.’”
With additional funding, Lion Electric can also expand its supply chain, bringing down the cost of its buses, he said.
“Everything right now is just a matter of money,” Thomas said. “Because the more that they fund, the more that we can get ready to do.”