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This Ohio city’s plan to get more people to buy electric cars worked

This Ohio city’s plan to get more people to buy electric cars worked

Columbus, Ohio, exceeded its goal of more than 3,200 new BEVs and plug-in hybrids.

In 2016, the city of Columbus, Ohio, won a nationwide Department of Transportation challenge and was named America’s first smart city. This contest was not just for bragging rights, like some kind of Mensa for municipalities; the award came with $40 million in DOT funding for testing better transportation policies, with an additional $10 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. As part of Smart Columbus’ plans to make moving around more safely more sustainable, the foundation asked the city to increase adoption of battery electric cars and plug-in hybrids through an electrification program. And it succeeded.

The electrification program, which we wrote about last year, involved several different approaches to getting more local residents to switch to BEVs. The city assembled a fleet of 12 BEVs and PHEVs for a “ride and drive” roadshow, visiting communities and places of work to give people an opportunity to try out an EV—something that just under 12,000 people did over the course of two years.The city created an experience center with a second fleet of test-drive plug-ins. This provided another 400 people with test drives from 2018 but also entertained more than 30,000 visitors from opening, educating them about alternative powertrains as well as shared mobility. On top of that, Smart Columbus conducted an online education campaign and worked with 35 area car dealerships, training staff so they could sell EVs. And finally, it worked with the local utility, AEP Ohio, to build out public level 2 and DC fast charging infrastructure in the region.

Giving someone a short test drive in a plug-in vehicle is the quickest way to get them to consider buying one.

Enlarge / Giving someone a short test drive in a plug-in vehicle is the quickest way to get them to consider buying one.
Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

In 2016, before the grant was awarded, BEV and PHEV sales were just 0.4 percent in the seven-county region. When the electrification program began in April 2017, the goal was to boost this to 1.8 percent of new vehicle sales—or 3,200 EVs—by March 2020. And it worked; over the course of those 22 months, 3,323 new BEVs and PHEVs found homes in the region. Plug-in sales actually reached as high as 2.4 percent in Q4 2018 and 1.6 percent in Q4 2019. (2019 was a disappointing year nationally for plug-in sales, so we can forgive the year-on-year decrease.) Smart Columbus estimates that the program will cut carbon emissions by 1,850 tonnes over ten years.

Smart Columbus

The outreach program also helped increase the odds that other locals will switch to electric powertrains, too. Favorable perceptions of BEVs and PHEVs rose from October 2017 to March 2020 (BEVs: 48 percent to 62 percent; PHEVs: 57 percent to 65 percent). And in October 2017, only a third of those surveyed said they were somewhat or extremely likely to purchase a BEV or a PHEV; by March 2020, that had grown to just over one-in-two.

“We’re thrilled to see the progress and success of the smart city program over the years,” said Paul Keating, senior director of Philanthropy at Vulcan Inc, the company that oversees the business and charitable activities of the late Paul Allen. “Columbus has demonstrated how a region can develop new transport systems through innovation to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. And in doing so, Columbus has created a model that can be replicated nationwide.”


Source:  ARS Technica

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Here’s how Columbus is getting more people to switch to electric cars

Ohio’s state capital is in the throes of a Smart City transformation.

Part of the Smart Columbus initiative is increasing the rate of electric vehicle adoption in the area.

In 2016, the city of Columbus, Ohio beat out nearly 80 other metropolises to win the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The title is more than just bragging rights: there’s a $40 million DOT grant—with another $10 million coming from Paul G. Allen Family Foundation—to help the city put together a holistic approach to using technology to make getting around Columbus safer and more sustainable. I’ve been keeping an eye on Smart Columbus, as it’s known, for a while now. But as is the way with these kinds of large multidisciplinary programs, the first couple of years aren’t particularly newsworthy unless you really love hearing about planning meetings. Now, that’s starting to change.

Among the projects underway are the Smart Columbus Operating System, an open data platform which will become the backbone of the smart city strategy; a multimodal trip planning app, which is the kind of Fifth Element multipass for which Alex Roy often evangelizes; and various programs to provide mobility solutions to residents needing prenatal care or those with cognitive disabilities. While all of those things are still in relatively early stages of development, Smart Columbus’ plan to spur the adoption of electric vehicles has been underway for a bit now.

Since the beginning of 2017, the city has seen an uptick in people choosing battery EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs that’s outstripped both the national and midwest regional average. Specifically, the increase in new EVs since January 2017 has been 121 percent in Columbus, 94 percent for the US as a whole, and just 82 percent for the Midwest.

It’s often said that the easiest way to get someone to switch to an EV is by letting them drive one for five minutes, and that’s been a key part of Smart Columbus’ strategy. “We’ve put a significant amount of investment and capacity to build out test drives for the community,” said Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus for the Columbus Partnership. Davis and her team have assembled a “ride and drive” roadshow with 12 BEVs and PHEVs that visit places of work around the community, and Smart Columbus has also opened an experience center with another fleet of alternative powertrain vehicles for people to test drive.

“The road show has conducted 7,000 test drives to date and will do another 5,000 this year. And the experience center has done over 250 to date. There’s a great correlation between what people test and what they buy,” she told me. (The most popular BEV has been the Tesla Model X, and the most popular PHEV the Mercedes-Benz GLE550e.)

What’s more, it sounds like the area’s car dealerships are fully onboard with the effort. One only has to read the comments to any recent review we’ve done on an EV to hear plenty of griping about how someone’s local dealers have no interest in selling such vehicles, but Smart Columbus has engaged with 20 local dealers to create a certification program. “We approached the dealers as partners, brought them along the learning process, and learned from them about how they think about the future of their product lines. They’re not just worried about the cars they need to sell tomorrow, but they’re thinking about the future,” Davis said.

Smart Columbus

The program has been building out charger capacity in the area as well. Partnerships with American Electric Power, IGS, and Columbus’ municipal power utility have helped with rebate funding for public, multi-unit residential, and workplace chargers (both level 2 and DC Fast).

It might be a while before the city rivals parts of California when it comes to EV adoption, but every region has to start somewhere. EV penetration is now at around 1.2 percent of the entire local vehicle fleet, up from 0.37 percent at the start of the Smart City Challenge application process. “We want to get to 1.8 percent by the time we end the grant,” Davis told me. “We did hit 2.5 percent in November, through the course of this year want to keep a stable and growing market. Once we get to 2020, 2021, we hope we’re well positioned to take our fair share of the market.”

Listing image by Smart Columbus



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