Sacramento public housing residents just got free Zipcars

By Sam Sklar

As of early May, some residents of public housing projects in Sacramento have access to an on-demand vehicle service using electric cars, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Through a partnership with Boston-based Zipcar, eight electric vehicles—two at each of four public housing complexes throughout the city—are now available for residents’ use at significantly subsidized rates. Members are not responsible for ongoing maintenance or insurance, and do not have to pay to charge the electric Kia Souls before or after each use.

The program will be available for about one of every six residents who live in the housing units. However, the program manager, Thomas Hall from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, does not believe the current demand will strain the supply of vehicles. Residents can borrow the vehicles for three-hour time slots up to three times per week. Sacramento’s mayor, Darrell Steinberg, has said the expanded access will help get people to their appointments, jobs, and school.

The $1.3 million project is funded through California’s cap-and-trade program that charges businesses to offset their impact on the environment. Cap-and-trade is a market-driven initiative that sets a maximum amount that an entity or consortium of entities can pollute, with emissions above the maximum level requiring payment into a fund. The “trade” part of cap-and-trade drives entities to run an analysis on whether it makes sense to pollute up to the allowable level or to innovate, pollute less, and “trade” or sell their remaining pollution allotment to the highest bidder, i.e., another entity that does not choose to cut their emissions. This program, when implemented aggressively and managed closely, has proven effective in both reducing pollution and funding equitable programs like the partnership between Zipcar and the State of California.

Although the public housing program participants do not have to pay to use the vehicles, the program is not truly “free”—businesses in California are paying for it. However, the program is a net positive to the community and to the physical environment, paying dividends in environmental justice, environmental sustainability, equal access, equipment preview, and expansion potential.

Although environmental justice, environmental sustainability, and equal access to a service are generally well understood, the Sacramento Bee points out that the program also adds equipment preview and expansion potential as benefits to the low-income residents, the community at large, and even the private firms introducing new products and programs in California.

Equipment preview provides low-income residents access to the new EV technology sooner than might otherwise happen. The sooner every person can interact with and evaluate this technology, the less opposition will stand in the way of future tech development.

Expansion potential derives from the pilot program acting as a proof-of-concept between Zipcar and California. It demonstrates a new non-trivial funding source for environmentalism and transportation access, and highlights that environmental justice does not have to be a monumental lift, encouraging expansion of the program within Sacramento and elsewhere in California.

Sam Sklar is a Program Associate for SSTI.