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What U.S. Cities Are Doing to Decarbonize Transport: Focus on EVs and AVs

I will complete a series of posts over the next couple of months detailing what 14 U.S. cities are doing in the area of climate-energy-transport to get a sense of what they are doing and what that might tell us about the future of fuels and fuel demand in the U.S., particularly when it comes to EVs. The 14 selected for this post were: Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; New York; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington.

I reviewed each city’s climate plans, transportation plans, metropolitan transit authority plans and other city materials. In summary, each of these cities are doing a lot in a range of different areas and are preparing for futures where their populations will grow (precipitously in some cases) and they will have to figure out how to move people around in much the same space they have now. The first post provided an overall summary of what cities are doing to reduce GHGs, air pollution and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), including actions related to conventional fuels and vehicles. EVs are a huge part of this equation, as it turns out, which is the focus of this post.

In summary, every city surveyed is taking a range of actions to promote and even require EVs in the future, at least in their fleets. Some example policies follow:

  • Boston: For its updated climate plan (due this year), the city may set a 100% ZEVs in the city by 2050 goal. Such a policy may include components such as (1) expanding infrastructure in the city (2) EV sharing in low-income neighborhoods (3) incentives.
  • Columbus: Under the city’s Smart Columbus program, it plans to deploy more than 900 EV charging ports at workplaces, residential buildings and public spaces throughout the Columbus region. The city has also created an incentive program that helps apartment and condo buildings install charging stations.
  • Los Angeles: Under its New Green Deal plan, the city has set a goal to increase the percentage of electric and zero emission vehicles in the city to 25% by 2025; 80% by 2035; and 100% by 2050. It also plans to electrify 100% of LA Metro and LADOT buses by 2030.
  • Miami: Require new properties to have EV-ready electrical infrastructure and dedicate a minimum amount of parking spaces to EV parking.
  • New York: As part of its revised climate plan, the city set a target for 20 percent of all motor vehicle sales for use in NYC to be plug-ins by 2025. The City will accelerate the shift to EVs by investing a minimum of $10 million toward the installation of 50 fast charging hubs across all five boroughs by 2020 with at least one in each borough by 2018, exploring the role of electric car share, and procuring zero- and low-emission freight vehicles.
  • Salt Lake City: The city has invested in public EV charging infrastructure and collaborated on programs to offer discounted EVs to residents.

Table 1 summarizes city actions to promote EVs (in both fleets and for consumers) and infrastructure. Every city surveyed for this report is engaged in some way in EVs, particularly in educating and promoting the benefits of EVs to their citizens and installing EV infrastructure. With respect to the former, cities like Columbus (under the Smart Columbus program) are allowing consumers to inspect and test drive EVs. Many utilities are as well. With respect to the latter, cities are installing public and workplace infrastructure (in partnership with corporations). Several of the cities are recipients (or soon will be) of Volkswagen Dieselgate settlement funds directed toward EV infrastructure build out under its Electrify America organization: New York, Boston, Houston, Seattle and Miami.[1]

Other popular policies among the cities include: city EV fleet targets/goals, parking benefits and HOV lane access. Some cities are trying to speed up permitting for infrastructure and have updated (or are updating) their building code to require EV charging in new construction. Note also there are six cities that are planning or already have electric buses in their fleet. Under the EV purchase program started by the Climate Mayors, these cities and many others are pooling their purchasing power to purchase these buses and fleet passenger EVs as well.[2]

Table 1: City Actions to Promote EVs and EV Infrastructure

Less popular initiatives involve direct funding: both consumer incentives for EVs and incentives for building out infrastructure. Moreover, only three of states where the cities are located offer buyer incentives in addition to the federal EV tax credit: California, New York and Massachusetts. It is unclear whether that will change and more states will offer buyer incentives in the future. The state of Georgia has already rolled back its incentive program that had offered $5,000 in addition to the federal tax credit for the purchase of EVs. This in turn caused a drop in EV sales.

Figure 1 shows in map form EV share of new 2018 vehicle registrations across the more than 900 metropolitan statistical areas. The 50 most populous areas are labeled, which include the 13 cities investigated for this report which are circled in red. As noted in the first report, EV uptake tends to be highest in major metropolitan areas on the West Coast, followed by other hot spots in Colorado and the Northeast. California alone accounted for about half of the total U.S. EV market in 2018.[3] San Jose had the highest share at about 21%, followed by a handful of other California cities, Seattle, and Portland at 4% to 13% market share. Los Angeles had the highest number of new electric vehicle registrations with nearly 60,000, followed by San Francisco, San Jose, New York, San Diego, and Seattle, with approximately 32,000 to 10,000 new registrations, respectively, according to ICCT.[4]

Figure 1: EV Share of New 2018 Vehicle Registrations by Metropolitan Area

Source: ICCT citing IHS Markit data, June 2019

Figure 2 shows EV market share, charging points, model availability, consumer incentives and promotion actions for 50 metropolitan areas, including for the cities in this post.  The areas are ordered from top to bottom based on highest 2018 EV market share. Overall, the areas with the highest uptake tended to have more charging infrastructure, more electric vehicle models available, consumer incentives, and promotion actions. The top 10 areas in terms of electric vehicle share largely overlap the top 10 areas for public charging infrastructure (8 of top 10), workplace charging infrastructure (7 of top 10), model availability (8 of top 10), incentives (7 of top 10), and promotion actions (9 of top 10).[5]

Figure 2: EV Share, Charging Points, Model Availability, Incentives and Promotion Actions in the 50 Most Populous Metropolitan Areas

Source: ICCT, June 2019

Autonomous Vehicles

Most of the cities (10 out of 14) are testing or allowing testing of AVs, or are beginning to prepare for it. Following are highlights from a few of the cities working in this area:

  • Boston: The city in 2017 launched an AV testing program focusing on South Boston’s Flynn Marine Park, a 191-acre waterfront industrial district occupying the site of a former military base tasked with creating and protecting jobs that pay decent wages for people at a variety of skill levels. There, the Boston Transportation Department and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, a special innovation unit created in 2010, are overseeing two pilots with local startups using a multi-stage permitting approach. Further, startup firm nuTonomy has logged more than 300 test miles in the industrial zone, and received city approval to expand AV testing in a wider area in the Seaport and Fort Point neighborhoods. In June 2017, ride-hail giant Lyft announced a partnership with nuTonomy that it claims could eventually put “thousands” of AVs onto Boston-area roads. Optimus Ride, another MIT spin-out company, is working on an AV-based last-mile solution to move passengers between the district’s cruise ship docks and other transportation modes.
  • Columbus: The city’s Connected Electric Autonomous Vehicles experiment hopes to launch in 2020 and involve six minibus driverless shuttles operating on three fixed routes in mixed traffic at the Easton Town Center, an outdoor retail, residential and jobs center in the city’s northeast. In December 2018, three self-driving shuttles will begin a year-long operation along the Scioto Mile in Columbus. The route will connect riders to COSI, the National Veterans Memorial and Bicentennial Park. Partner organizations include Smart Columbus, ODOT’s Drive Ohio, and Michigan-based May Mobilty.
  • Houston: The city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) has chosen Texas Southern University as the city’s first test bed for a self-driving pilot. METRO’s board approved a $250,000 budget for the first phase of the trial began late last year.
  • Los Angeles: In October 2017, the city hosted its first citywide AV working group meeting, drawing in officials from multiple departments and agencies. The group reconvened in January 2018 to assemble a joint budget package to fund a transportation technology strike team. Another meeting later last year brought together companies interested in working with the city on AVs and other innovative technologies, the first step in vendor pre-qualification for future pilots. The city published a Strategic Implementation Plan for goals initially outlined in the 2016 Urban Mobility Playbook in 2018. The plan features a number of goals and recommended policies. For example, the city may aim to convert its city transit fleet to AVs within six years.
  • Miami: In 2017, the city issued a $1.1 million solicitation for a multimodal transport study to assess the impact of AVs to the county’s current transportation infrastructure. Miami is one of five cities to share in a $5.25 million funding round from the Knight Foundation to develop a people-centered self-driving vehicle pilot. The city will explore the possibility of developing on-demand shuttles as an alternative to fixed route buses.
  • Orlando: The city has partnered with the Florida Turnpike Enterprise and Florida Department of Transportation to form the Central Florida Automated Vehicle (CFAV) partnership. The group plans a three-phase approach to AV research and testing. The first phase will focus on simulation, tapping the world’s largest cluster of computer modeling talent at more than 100 companies and research organizations. The second phase will leverage a network of test facilities including Florida Polytechnic University’s 400-acre SunTrax testing facility; the grounds of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; and eventually local highways and regional bus and rail networks.
  • Phoenix: In 2018, Waymo began a two-year partnership with Valley Metro, Phoenix’s Regional Transit Provider. Beginning in August, employees of Valley Metro can call on Waymo’s self-driving cars to take them to and from public transit. The pilot is then slated to expand to Valley Metro’s RideChoice travelers, a program providing discounted rides to seniors and persons with disabilities.
  • San Antonio: The city is one of five key municipal partners in the Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership, itself part of a network of 10 regions designated by federal government in January 2017 as “Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds” Future AV pilots will focus connecting the booming downtown’s South Texas Medical Center corridor along Fredericksburg Road. Key goals include extending and improving safety on the 12-mile, 12,000-passenger per day VIA Primo bus rapid transit (BRT) line, which links downtown San Antonio and the South Texas Medical Center.

NEXT UP: The Wrap Up – What Does This All Mean for Fuels and Vehicles in the U.S.?

[1] Volkswagen Group of America, National ZEV Investment Plan: Cycle 1, Apr. 9. 2017 at

[2] Climate Mayors, “Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative,” last accessed July, 18, 2019 at

[3] International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), “The Surge of Electric Vehicles in United States Cities,” June 2019 available at

[4] Id. at 7.

[5] Id. at 13.

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