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MN Electric Vehicle-Share Program Finds Success After False Start

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Monday, December 26, 2022   

By Frank Jossi for Energy News Network.
Broadcast version by Mike Moen for Minnesota News Connection reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration

A pioneering electric-vehicle car-sharing service in the Twin Cities saw steady growth during the first half of 2022, exceeding the expectations of backers during the program’s first six months following a relaunch.

Evie Community Carshare claimed to be the nation’s first all-electric, renewably powered car-share service when it launched last year. It now has over 100 vehicles serving a 35-square-mile area of Minneapolis and St. Paul chosen for its high concentrations of poverty and pollution.

“It’s been a hit,” said James Vierling, head of growth, marketing and communications for HourCar, which operates Evie. “We’ve been growing a lot faster than we thought we would.” 

The service logged nearly 25,000 trips totaling almost a quarter million miles between February and July, reducing an estimated 741 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. It also helped members save an estimated $2.6 million on transportation, including about $850,000 for very low-income households.

“It’s going wonderfully,” said Will Schroeer, executive director of East Metro Strong. “We’re exceeding our projections and we’ve seen new record use each month since our launch. Trips and membership continue to increase every month and that’s what you want to see.”

Erin Kayser, electric vehicle program coordinator for the city of St. Paul, said the Evie program’s ability to enroll lower-income subscribers had surpassed expectations as it pursues a goal of having Black, Indigenous, and people of color constitute half the system’s usage. “The progress since February has been amazing,” she said.

The car-share universe includes a handful of national companies such as Zipcar and a smattering of locally operated programs in Sacramento, Los Angeles and other cities. The Twin Cities has been a leader in the field through HourCar, which has 17 years of car-share program experience.

HourCar developed a public-private partnership to create Evie with the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Xcel Energy, East Metro Strong, and the American Lung Association. The service is a “free-flow” program in which members can pick up and leave cars nearly anywhere within the footprint.

HourCar’s Vierling said the goal in free-flow car-share service is typically three to five trips per car per day. Evie is currently around two trips, he said.

The program is a division of the EV Spot Network, which provides more than 30 sites with on-street chargers in neighborhoods often lacking EV facilities, Kayser said. She said that renters with EVs often have no access to chargers near where they live, especially in marginalized communities, where the EV Spot Network placed several chargers.

The rollout has not been seamless. Evie began last year with dozens of Chevy Bolts that General Motors recalled last October for a battery problem, forcing a pause in the program before a February 2022 restart. In addition, supply chain issues have slowed the delivery of new vehicles to the system.

Evie is entering its first full winter and HourCar anticipates fewer trips due to the weather. The momentum of the first six months needs to continue with social media, word-of-mouth marketing and other outreach to attract more customers.

“It’s a new idea to a lot of folks and the more use we get, the more word of mouth there is that it works great,” Schroeer said.

The origins of Evie

Evie grew out of HourCar, a car-share program the Center for Energy and Environment began in 2005. In 2017, HourCar became a nonprofit organization and two years later added service in the southern Minnesota city of Rochester. 

Unlike Evie vehicles, HourCar vehicles are picked up at a hub and returned to the same one by drivers. Both services cover insurance, roadside assistance and fuel or charges. Together, they have more than 5,000 members who can use either service.

In 2019 and 2020, HourCar met with community groups in 10 BIPOC and low-income neighborhoods to create strategies to reduce barriers to using electric vehicles. HourCar lowered rates by nearly 40% and created a new, lower-rate option for very low-income residents called Access Plus.

Evie offers Twin Cities residents without cars an opportunity to use one whenever needed for proverbial Target runs and other errands. The program’s research shows drivers generally employ the service for shopping, appointment drop-offs and other activities. Evie customers average less than 10 miles.

Jon Hunter, senior director of the American Lung Association Clean Air program in Minnesota, said funding for Evie came from several sources. Evie received a $6.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program, mainly for curbside charging infrastructure. Some money will go to an HourCar initiative to place electric vehicles in low-income, multifamily projects. The Metropolitan Council contributed $4 million to help the program purchase vehicles and several other organizations also assisted with funding.

The lung association has a vested interest in expanding EVs since tailpipe vehicle emissions are a leading source of air pollution, Hunter said. Half the stations are in BIPOC neighborhoods that suffer higher air pollution levels than other areas of both cities, he said.

Vierling said by the end of next year Evie should have 70 charging locations with 280 connectors and 10 DC fast chargers. Evie should reach a goal of having 170 EVs on the streets sometime next year, with new Nissan Leafs being added to the portfolio. More cars will mean less of a commute for Evie members looking to use a vehicle.

Still, Evie only works for low-income residents if they have a good public transportation infrastructure. “Evie free-flow car share is never going to be your 100% replacement for owning a car without having other systems supporting it like Metro Transit, bikes and scooters,” Vierling said. “It takes an entire network to get rid of car ownership.”

Frank Jossi wrote this article for Energy News Network.

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