A group of D.C. cab drivers who purchased electric vehicles with District incentives are struggling to pay their bills and accusing the District of misleading them. The problem, echoed in other cities with ambitious climate goals that focus on EVs, is a lack of local charging infrastructure.
The District’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles (DFHV) rarely issues new licenses, or H tags, WAMU reports. One exception: the purchase of a new, 100-percent electric vehicle. That, combined with a $10,000 grant and the prospect of saying goodbye to gasoline, has prompted a number of cab drivers to buy EVs over the last few years. But a group of 120 cabbies is now saying they regret the decision, and has petitioned the district to transfer their H tags to hybrid vehicles — a switch that isn’t currently allowed.
One of their main complaints is the lack of available chargers: “When we need a charge, we have to go Virginia or Maryland. Daily I can charge two or three times, so I have to go to Virginia or Maryland two or three times,” Habtamu Tarekegn, one of the drivers, told WAMU. “How can we work with that?”
Nearly all of the 89 public charging stations in D.C. are located in hotels, businesses or commercial parking garages and reserved for employees or patrons. Nineteen require key card access that cab drivers don’t have. The public charging stations outside D.C. have a small fee, and, as Tarekegn points out, that costs hours of time.
The director of the District’s Department of Energy & Environment told WAMU that the city does lack enough charging stations to support the electric cab fleet, but that the District can’t be expected to be the sole supplier of chargers.
As Next City has previously covered, the supply side of EV infrastructure can be difficult for local governments to keep up with, because, much like gas stations, the decision to install a charging station often lies with private property owners. Cities can install them on their publicly owned land, but those chargers aren’t always enough to keep up with demand. As EV sales grow in places like Atlanta, companies like Pepsi often end up supplying chargers for their employees.
While EV owners can buy their own charger, that can be cost-prohibitive and inaccessible for renters or people living in apartments rather than single-family homes with garages. This also discourages EV ownership among lower-income drivers.
Still, as local governments begin to subsidize EV ownership, they need to plan for infrastructure, tricky as the supply-side may be. A pilot program in Los Angeles, which features charging stations mounted on utility poles, might provide one helpful example.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.