Low-income households in the U.S. use transit more frequently than affluent households; 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. As environmental justice initiatives grow throughout the state, transportation programs are increasingly expected to both provide substantial emission reductions and serve distributional justice objectives.

The following research from the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) has informed the design and implementation of transportation equity programs in California.

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.

Initial Assessment of Valley Clean Air Now’s Clean Car Community Clinic Initiative 

(2019 report)
Authors: Gregory Pierce and Rachel Connolly

The nonprofit organization Valley Clean Air Now (Valley CAN) operates multiple longstanding
clean vehicle programs to reduce emissions from older vehicles in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) of California, a region with many disadvantaged communities with environmental justice concerns. Since 2015, Valley CAN has piloted and now operates the Clean Cars 4 All program (also known as Drive Clean in the San Joaquin), which offers clean vehicle incentives to low- to moderate-income households.

This evaluation by LCI utilizes several datasets to track program progress over the nine-month period of October 2018 through June 2019, a time when Electrify America provided enhanced funding for Valley CAN to accelerate the reach and pace of the program in the SJV. This initial assessment considers four stages of impact experienced by SJV residents via the enhanced funding: awareness, involvement, engagement, and vehicle acquisition. Even in this short period, we observe notable positive impacts of ELAM funding in all four stages.

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.

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 PEV adoption for residents of apartments and other multi-unit dwellings, using the South Bay subregion and the Westside Cities subregion 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.

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 PEVs 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.

Improving Financial Incentives for Cleaner Vehicle Purchases: Strategically Linking with Vehicle Retirement Incentives 

(2016 article)
Author: J.R. DeShazo

This article evaluates the effectiveness of current clean vehicle incentive policies in the U.S. and makes recommendations for improvement. The associated study found that policymakers could facilitate more emission reductions by strategically linking vehicle purchase incentives with vehicle retirement incentives (e.g., cash for clunkers). This is because purchase incentives alone do not influence the type, timing, and pollution intensity of the retirement vehicle, a decision that is a critical determinant of emissions. Aligned with our recommendations, in 2015, the California Air Resources Board introduced the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP) Plus-Up pilot program (as approved by Assembly Bill 118) to better integrate vehicle retirement and replacement incentive programs in support of low- to moderate- income households. See the previous report “Design and Implementation of the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Plus-Up Program.”