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UCLA Luskin Center Reports Analyze Electric Vehicle Charging in Los Angeles
by Chris Clarke
Take a look at L.A.’s busy streets and you’ll see more plug-in electric cars than ever before. That’s because drivers can now save money on gas, take the carpool lane and help improve air quality without worrying about getting stranded with a depleted battery. A growing body of research at the Luskin Center looks at ways to remake L.A.’s vehicle charging amenities so that drivers can take advantage of the latest innovations in electric cars.
More than 15 years after the first modern mass-produced electric car was introduced, the vision of electric driving is finally becoming a reality. That’s thanks to plug-in electric cars that can drive hundreds of miles between charge-ups with the help of more powerful batteries or gas-fueled components that kick in when additional range is needed. With a wide variety of all-battery and plug-in hybrid models coming on the market in Southern California, the Luskin Center is exploring ways to expand charging options at homes, stores and workplaces.
There are plenty of places where Los Angeles could sensibly install vehicle chargers. Homeowners with electric cars can usually handle their own charger installation, but it gets more complicated when talking about public spaces. The Luskin Center report “Financial Viability Of Non-Residential Electric Vehicle Charging Stations,” written under the direction of UCLA Anderson professor Jason Snyder, analyzes the costs and benefits of charging installations at commercial and business locations, and discusses different economic strategies for charger installation, operation, and maintenance. The study’s authors call for continued subsidies for businesses that install chargers, while encouraging retail outlets to consider the promotional benefits of charger availability. They also caution that as improved battery technology increases electric vehicle range, the need for chargers per car will drop—though that seems a less crucial concern given electrics’ very low percentage of private autos. There are 2.5 million private cars in Los Angeles, and even if the city gains tens of thousands of electric cars, that’s still a small fraction of the total.
A second report addresses the non-homeowner side of the residential charging picture. More than half of Angelenos live in multi-unit dwellings (MUDs). MUDs present their own unique obstacles to installing vehicle chargers, from tenantlandlord negotiations to building upgrades to HOA politics to even just getting tenants to agree on swapping parking spaces. The authors of “Increasing Electric Vehicle Charging Access in Multi-Unit Dwellings in Los Angeles”—Judith Balmin MPP ’12, Greg Bonett MPP ’12 and Megan Kirkeby MPP ’12—offer a set of recommendations to make things easier for tenants, landlords, and HOAs to install chargers, from immediate measures such as enacting subsidies to longer-term solutions like reworking building codes to encourage charging stations. The report had its genesis as the three students’ capstone project in the Master of Public Policy program at UCLA Luskin.
Car-centric Los Angeles is uniquely positioned to become the center of the electric vehicle movement, both reports’ authors maintain, with most auto commutes well within the electric range of available EVs. The Luskin Center is building on these studies and others to create plug-in electric vehicle readiness plans for the Southern California Association of Governments and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, with funding from the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy. These plans provide a way forward for building an electric vehicle charging infrastructure to serve Southern California’s growing demand.