How Electric Vehicle Chargers Can Promote Equity and Resilience in Cities

The recent passage of the US Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act presents a significant opportunity to address the long-standing inequities in cities. These pieces of legislation aim to tackle systematic inequalities and provide funding for various infrastructure projects, including those related to environmental justice. However, it is crucial to determine how, when, and to what extent these goals will be achieved.

Cities, in particular, have been deeply affected by injustice, with marginalized communities, such as Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other minority groups, facing the brunt of climate change impacts due to decades of racist policies and redlining. For instance, the Mott Haven neighborhood in the South Bronx has suffered from underinvestment in infrastructure and poor air quality controls, resulting in high levels of air pollution and alarming rates of asthma. This inequality is further exacerbated by the lack of accessible public transportation options, creating transit deserts that limit educational, employment, and healthcare opportunities for these communities.

To truly “build back better” and address the systemic underinvestment in marginalized urban areas, electric vehicles (EVs) can play a crucial role, especially when accompanied by equitable distribution of charging infrastructure. EVs have the potential to reach places that public transit cannot, contributing to cleaner air and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. While the upfront cost of EVs may be a barrier for many, recent legislation aims to make EVs more affordable through expanded credits for new and used vehicles. Additionally, the Jobs Bill allocates funding for the development of an electric vehicle charging network, addressing concerns about range anxiety.

Equitable Distribution of Charging Infrastructure

To ensure that the benefits of EVs are accessible to all communities, it is essential to prioritize the equitable distribution of charging infrastructure. One promising approach is the installation of curbside charging stations, as demonstrated by New York City’s initiative to install 60 charging stations across its boroughs. These stations are accessible, cost-effective, and public, providing an alternative to expensive private charging options. However, the construction and permitting process for standalone charging stations can be time-consuming and costly. To overcome these challenges, innovative solutions, such as retrofitting existing infrastructure, can be explored.

London has successfully piloted a project that converts lampposts into charging stations, with plans to expand the program to 50,000 lamppost charging stations nationwide by 2025. Retrofitting existing infrastructure not only saves time and money but also maximizes the use of public space. These initiatives demonstrate that charging networks should be both ubiquitous and smart, addressing transit deserts, air pollution, and charging costs.

Smart Charging Technologies

In addition to equitable distribution, smart charging technologies can further enhance the resilience and efficiency of charging networks. Software integrated into charging stations can optimize electricity consumption by adjusting charging rates based on parking duration. Managed charging, which prioritizes off-peak hours for charging, reduces power demands and associated costs. A notable case study in Brooklyn showed a 45% reduction in power demand through managed charging, resulting in significant cost savings. By shifting charging to times when cleaner and cheaper energy sources are available, managed charging can incentivize renewable energy generation and improve air quality, benefiting communities.

Moreover, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies have the potential to transform parked EVs into backup generators during blackouts. In marginalized communities that are most vulnerable to climate disasters, a distributed network of V2G chargers can provide a safety net by supplying power to the grid. This not only benefits the community but also offers financial incentives to EV owners. By selling excess energy back to the grid during peak demand periods and charging at low-cost times, EV owners can earn revenue and reduce the cost burdens associated with EV ownership. For instance, a bidirectional charger project in Colorado allowed the city of Boulder to save $270 per month while charging its fleet of vehicles.

These smart charging technologies can be further enhanced to provide additional benefits to communities. For example, charging stations could be equipped with emergency call buttons, providing assistance during emergencies. They could also provide air quality data, educating people about the environmental impact of transportation choices. By empowering communities with information and resources, charging stations can contribute to building more resilient and equitable cities.

Involving Frontline Communities

To ensure the success of these initiatives, it is crucial to involve frontline community members in the decision-making process. These communities have unique needs and perspectives that must be considered when designing charging infrastructure and related policies. By including their voices, we can avoid perpetuating existing inequities and create solutions that truly address their challenges. Building a better world requires collaboration and partnership with those who are directly affected by the issues at hand.


As cities strive to address long-standing inequalities and become more resilient in the face of climate change, electric vehicle chargers can play a transformative role. By complementing the expansion of public transportation networks, EVs can reach areas that are underserved by traditional transit options. Equitable distribution of charging infrastructure is essential to ensure that all communities can benefit from the transition to electric transportation. Smart charging technologies further enhance the efficiency and resilience of charging networks, offering financial incentives and environmental benefits. However, achieving these goals requires the active participation of frontline communities in the decision-making process. By prioritizing equity and resilience, we can leverage the opportunities presented by recent legislation to build a better and more inclusive world.

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