Low-income households in the U.S. suffer from disproportionate exposure to air pollution from transportation sources, such as trucks, trains, and planes. Low-income households also use transit more frequently than affluent households do; however, they still rely heavily on vehicles to fill their mobility needs. Due in part to the high cost of housing near job and transit centers, many other low- and moderate-income individuals are stuck with long commutes in vehicles than are older, less efficient, and costlier to maintain than the average privately owned vehicle. This is especially true in high-housing-cost states like California.

California is also at the forefront of progressive environmental initiatives, including many innovative transportation-related environmental justice programs. The following research from the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) has informed the design and implementation of transportation equity programs in California.

Clean Transportation Programs and Policies

Adapting Outreach Methods to Ensure Household Transportation Benefits during COVID-19


Researchers: Gregory Pierce and Rachel Connolly

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that public agencies and nonprofits adapt to serve their communities. This case study focuses on an innovative example in rapid but careful response to community needs: the Tune In & Tune Up vehicle smog repair program serving low-income residents of the San Joaquin Valley. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and program partner Valley Clean Air Now (Valley CAN) adapted quickly to meet community needs for cleaner running vehicles during the pandemic.

Zero-Emission Drayage Trucks: Opportunities and Challenges for the San Pedro Bay Ports 

(2019 report)

Researchers: James Di Filippo, Colleen Callahan, and Naseem Golestani

Heavy-duty diesel truck traffic is the main source of toxic diesel particulate matter pollution and a major contributor to smog precursor and greenhouse gas emissions in California. Zero-emission alternatives to diesels, particularly battery electric trucks, are becoming commercially available.

This report examines both the need for and current state of zero-emission trucks and the barriers and opportunities involved in moving toward zero-emission drayage trucking for the adjacent Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Referred to as a the San Pedro Ports, they are the first and second largest ports by container volume in the U.S. The report then proposes a set of short-and-medium-term policies and strategies that address main barriers and opportunities, with a focus on the San Pedro Bay Ports.  The mayors of Long Beach and Los Angeles signed a joint executive directive confirming commitment to transition to a zero-emission freight transportation system. Their stated goal is: “zero emissions for drayage trucks serving the ports by 2035.” The authors describe why an accelerated transition in the 2020s could help achieve this goal while providing other benefits.

The report both incorporates findings from an earlier LCI supported study, called Charging Infrastructure Strategies: Maximizing the Deployment of Electric Drayage Trucks in Southern California, and serve as a foundation for future analyses that further support the transition to cleaner drayage trucking.

A second project is exploring strategies to incentivize zero-emission heavy-duty truck adoption in the Inland Empire of Southern California. This work is supported by a Climate Change Research partnership grant from the Strategic Growth Council.

Designing Light-Duty Vehicle Incentives for Low- and Moderate-Income Households 

(2019 and 2021 report and policy brief)

Authors: Gregory Pierce, Britta McOmber, and J.R. DeShazo

California will require a transformation of its light-duty vehicle fleet in order to meet statewide air quality and climate change goals. As a percentage of household earnings, lower-income populations face disproportionate costs to maintain and operate a vehicle. Optimally priced incentives and financing options can therefore promote household economic well-being while generating broader environmental benefits. To do so, financial incentives should be designed to accelerate the retirement and replacement of older, high-polluting vehicles and increase the adoption of clean vehicles. Yet several challenges persist in enabling low- and moderate-income households to adopt near-zero and zero-emission vehicles in California.

This report, based on an LCI survey of 1,604 low- and moderate-income households, assesses current policies and informs future strategies intended to improve clean vehicle access and use by low- and moderate-income households in California. The results help identify effective policy approaches to improve access to, and adoption of, clean vehicles.

Evaluating a Smog Repair Program for Low-Income Californians 

(2018 report)

Authors: Gregory Pierce and Rachel Connolly

LCI researchers analyzed data from the San Joaquin Valley’s smog test and vehicle repair program known as Tune In & Tune Up. We found that the program is a model that other regions could use to efficiently reduce emissions from cars and other light-duty vehicles while addressing the mobility needs of low-income households. It is one of the first transportation programs in the nation premised on jointly achieving efficiency, equity, and environmental objectives, and is now informing a grassroots outreach pilot program, led by the Liberty Hill Foundation, bringing clean vehicle, clean energy, and financial assistance programs to low-income households in Los Angeles County.

Assessing the Design and Implementation of a Clean Vehicle Program for Low-Income Households 

(2017 report)

Authors: Gregory Pierce and J.R. DeShazo

The Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP) Plus-Up pilot program is helping hundreds of low-income drivers get out of old, inefficient vehicles and into cleaner, more efficient cars. This LCI report describes how the EFMP Plus-Up pilot was implemented in the two air districts chosen for the pilot phase, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and South Coast Air Quality Management District, during the first year of program operation. The research is informing the state’s expansion of the program (now renamed Clean Cars 4 All) to other parts of California.

A previous study and article from LCI informed the design of the EFMP Plus-Up pilot. That research found that policymakers could facilitate more emission reductions by strategically linking vehicle purchase incentives with vehicle retirement incentives, which consequently the California Air Resources Board designed EFMP Plus-Up to do in support of low- to moderate-income households.

Increasing Clean Vehicle Rebates for Low- and Moderate-Income Drivers 

(2016 paper)

Authors: Tamara Sheldon, J.R. DeShazo, and Richard Carson

More Californians can now afford clean vehicles, in part thanks to research involving the LCI. The researchers assessed the performance of alternative rebate designs for plug-in electric vehicles and compared these alternatives in terms of cost-effectiveness and equity. They found that providing progressive rebate levels based on consumer income levels would provide benefits within those performance criteria. These findings helped inform the adoption of California’s progressive rebate system in which low- and moderate-income drivers receive an additional $3,000 to $6,500 in financial incentives to purchase a clean vehicle. Additionally, income rules for most rebates limit eligibility to households with less than $500,000 in annual income.

See the LCI’s Transportation Program page, including our Clean Mobility for Low-income Households initiative, for other examples of how LCI scholars are influencing transportation policy and programs to benefit low-income households and communities.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Planning

Speeding Up Electric Vehicle Adoption Among Apartment and Condo Dwellers

(2021 report)

Researchers: James DiFilippo and J.R. DeShazo

We evaluated a multi-unit dwelling-focused fast charging pilot program developed by EVgo, America’s largest public network of electric vehicle fast chargers. The study found that apartment and condo dwellers plug in their cars at fast chargers more frequently and closer to home than their non-multi-unit dwelling resident counterparts. This suggests that fast charging stations are an important component for encouraging electric vehicle adoption among condo and apartment residents, who are often low- and moderate-income.

Overcoming Barriers to Electric Vehicle Charging in Multi-unit Dwellings: Westside Cities Case Study and South Bay Case Study 

(2017 and 2016 reports)

Authors of 2017 report: Jason Karpman, Norman Wong, and J.R. DeShazo
Authors of 2016 report: Alex Turek and J.R. DeShazo

These two reports explore barriers and opportunities to plug-in electric vehicle adoption for residents of apartments and other multi-unit dwellings, using the South Bay and the Westside Cities subregions of Los Angeles County as case studies. The lessons learned are relevant to other areas as well. The studies were supported by the Southern California Association of Governments and the California Energy Commission.

See the LCI’s EV Infrastructure Planning page for other examples of how LCI scholars are informing a strategic expansion of EV infrastructure.