Electric vehicle initiatives

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  

Electric vehicle initiatives replace public or privately operated diesel or gasoline-powered internal combustion engine vehicles with all-electric vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions. Electric vehicle initiatives can include combinations of financial incentives (e.g., tax benefits, loans, grants, or rebates), mandates or rules (e.g., sales share requirements for electric vehicles, requirements for installing electric charging stations, or greenhouse gas emissions limits for new vehicles sold), direct purchases of electric vehicles for use in state or municipal fleets, and investments in research and development to improve battery technology and to improve the infrastructure for electric vehicles. Battery electric technology exists for light duty vehicles, including personal vehicles, mail delivery fleets, and service vans, and for heavy-duty vehicles, including buses, trash and recycling trucks, and more. Initiatives are underway across the U.S. to reduce potential barriers to the adoption of electric vehicles, such as high costs and a lack of supporting infrastructure1.

The transportation sector produces almost 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions2 and 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions overall3. In the U.S., the transportation sector produces 28% of total greenhouse gas emissions4. Vehicle traffic also produces hazardous air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOX), carbon monoxide (CO), nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHC), and more5, 6. Air pollution negatively impacts human health. Studies have associated air pollution exposure with increased rates of asthma, high blood pressure, lung cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and premature deaths5, 6.

The evidence presented here primarily addresses all-electric, plug-in electric, or battery electric vehicles that replace internal combustion engine vehicles, rather than hybrid electric vehicles or fuel cell electric vehicles that also use liquid fuels.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced emissions
  • Improved air quality

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved health outcomes
What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated scientifically supported.

There is strong evidence that adopting all-electric vehicles eliminates tailpipe emissions for each replaced vehicle and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially in conjunction with initiatives that support clean, renewable sources of electricity5, 7. Life cycle analysis comparisons suggest that battery electric vehicles reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions more than diesel, hydrogen, and natural gas vehicles over their lifetime8, 9, 10. The magnitude of emissions and air pollution effects for electric vehicle initiatives varies based on vehicle type, manufacturing, source of energy generation, geography, and recycling efforts5, 11, 12. In areas where electricity generation comes from fossil fuels or carbon intensive sources, overall greenhouse gas reductions from electric vehicle adoption are significantly lower7, 13. The environmental benefits of electric vehicles are increased with battery recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing that reduces the demand for raw materials and captures the remaining capacity of retired electric vehicle batteries, which can be used for residential and utility energy storage11. Battery recycling increases the domestic supply of critical minerals needed for manufacturing electric vehicle batteries14.

In New York City, policies implemented to adopt cleaner public buses increased use of hybrid electric buses and are associated with reduced urban air pollution, especially reduced nitrogen dioxide (NO2), with the largest reductions in pollution concentrations in areas with more cleaner buses and bus service15. Available data from international cities suggests that clean air actions, policies, and initiatives have been associated with improved air quality, reduced urban air pollution, and reduced emissions per vehicle over time. However, road traffic remains a major source of pollution and further emissions reductions as well as reductions in traffic volume are still needed6. Fleet transitions from diesel to battery electric vehicles in cities where the electricity mix is relatively clean (i.e., not coal-based) reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) by 93-98% and multiple air pollutants by 85-99%13. In Thailand, a model shows substantial improvements to human health, ecosystem quality, reductions in resource depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, and decreases in life cycle costs with bus fleet transitions from diesel to electric16. Emissions reductions are greater when electric vehicles replace older and heavier diesel vehicles13.

Heavier electric vehicles such as buses produce secondary types of air pollution or non-exhaust emissions, from brakes, tire dust, road dust, and other sources. As lighter battery technology is developed, electric fleets may be retrofitted and adopt lighter batteries to further improve local air quality and reduce air pollution17. Lithium-ion battery performance has improved and production costs have decreased over time; however, additional battery technologies exist that could further increase energy storage, reduce weights, and decrease costs, with more research and development funding18.

Widespread adoption of all-electric vehicles could have potential positive effects on the U.S. electric grid if initiatives support vehicle-to-grid communication that enables vehicles to store energy as it is generated from intermittent renewable energy sources (such as solar, wind, wave, or tidal power) and give that energy back to the grid on demand19. There is also the potential for negative effects on the electric grid, including transformer overloading, voltage instabilities, and voltage sag. Experts suggest vehicle-to-grid communication, smart charging, charge scheduling plans, and incentives to shift charging demand to off-peak times could mitigate potential negative effects2, 19, 20, 21. In Germany, electric vehicle owners adjusted their charging behavior in response to financial and environmental incentives to charge their vehicles during specified times when clean electricity was available at a reduced cost22. Data from Beijing suggests higher levels of transportation electrification are feasible with grid management, charging infrastructure construction, and scheduling vehicle charging23.

Electric vehicle fleets are often more cost effective than diesel fleets, especially when external funding is available to subsidize higher initial purchase prices9, 10, 12, 13, 24, 25, 26. Electric buses have a higher purchase price, but substantially lower fuel, operating, and maintenance costs than diesel buses9, 12. Diesel fuel costs are also rising more than electricity costs24. Data from California suggests that consumer demand for electric vehicles is influenced by both gasoline and electricity prices, but the influence of higher gasoline prices is much stronger than that of higher electricity prices27. Battery electric vehicles’ maintenance and repair costs are generally 25-50% less over a vehicle’s lifetime compared to vehicles with internal combustion engines13, 26, though the maintenance skill set for electric vehicles is specialized26. Rapid-charging, lighter weight battery electric buses are significantly more cost-effective than diesel vehicles9. In France, one model shows bus fleet transitions from diesel to electric can be cost-effective, especially when using smaller, 40-foot electric buses and fast overnight charging stations28. Fast charging stations are more expensive but can reduce overall costs since fewer charging stations are needed29. Electric buses on average have a positive net present value (NPV) benefit of about $8,000 per bus compared to diesel buses in most areas of the country, and in some areas, the NPV benefit is much bigger, for example, over $200,000 per bus in Los Angeles12. Based on these NPVs, Los Angeles would have an annual environmental benefit of $65 million from an electric bus fleet and 6 other metropolitan areas would have environmental benefits that exceed $10 million annually12.

Although compressed natural gas (CNG) is the least expensive short-term fuel, it is not sustainable over the long-term, since transporting and using CNG often results in methane leaks, and methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO216, 30. Diesel fuel is the worst for the environment, air quality, and human health, and the most expensive over the life cycle because of high fuel costs. However, electric vehicles have the potential to become more sustainable as electricity sources become cleaner and more renewable16. Although electric fleets are cost-effective over the long term, experts acknowledge that due to cost constraints, many municipal fleet transitions may require a mix of fuels and a plan for adding charging infrastructure while working toward converting fleets to all-electric vehicles29.

To encourage electric vehicle adoption, experts suggest governments and policy makers use legislation to prioritize installation and maintenance of charging infrastructure, especially publicly available fast charging stations; offer incentives to reduce purchase price; invest in information dissemination and address anxiety about vehicle range by supporting improvements to battery technology, fast charging stations, and battery swapping stations7, 13, 29, 31. Providing private or public grants, offering reduced cost financing opportunities, and involving stakeholders in implementing initiatives can increase electric vehicle adoption32. Incentives could be offered equal to the benefits that electric vehicles provide, in terms of emissions and air pollutant reductions. Governments should consider tracking tailpipe emissions and monitoring and taxing old diesel vehicles13. Efforts to increase electric battery recycling are also needed to support large-scale electric vehicle adoption11. Fleet operators need to consider the interrelated factors of bus type, bus size, refueling time and schedule, and refueling station locations and its impact on route scheduling and refueling time allowances to achieve successful electric bus fleet transitions29.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by expert opinion.

Efforts to reduce diesel and gasoline exhaust emissions – such as through electric vehicle initiatives – have the potential to decrease existing disparities in air pollution exposure rates by race, ethnicity, and income48, 49, 50. Model analysis suggests that electric vehicle adoption can change local air pollution exposure; however, initial positive environmental benefits appear to primarily be in regions of the country where the electricity is not generated by coal and in areas where households have higher incomes51. Increasing the use of clean, renewable electricity sources is recommended to achieve greater health benefits with the adoption of electric vehicles and to avoid simply shifting environmental injustices from communities experiencing heavy traffic to communities near power plants5. Experts suggest identifying neighborhoods for electric vehicle initiatives where emissions reductions can reduce average exposure and exposure inequality, as well as accounting for meteorology and the movement of air pollution to reduce disparities in exposure50.

Electric vehicle initiatives can target subsidies to reach households with low and middle incomes and ensure subsidies pass through to the consumer, to effectively reduce purchase prices and increase demand for electric vehicle adoption among those with low and middle incomes52. Future subsidies should be created specifically for households with low incomes to be both more cost effective and less regressive, and to encourage electric vehicle adoption in households that would be unlikely to purchase an electric vehicle without an incentive53. Analysis of tax return data since 2006 for U.S. households receiving federal income tax credits for clean energy investments shows that about 90% of the credits for electric vehicle purchases were given to individuals or households with incomes in the top 20%54. Available data suggests that electric vehicle adopters tend to have higher incomes, multiple cars for their household, higher education levels, and are often younger or middle-aged males7.

Diesel vehicles, especially heavy-duty diesel vehicles, are a primary source of toxic air pollution and disparities in pollutant exposure48. People of color and people with low incomes have higher exposure to diesel air pollution and toxic emissions that have been strongly associated with their experiences of poorer health outcomes, compared to white people and those with higher incomes48. Air pollution exposure and living in neighborhoods with heavy traffic is associated with many adverse health effects, including asthma, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancers, adverse birth outcomes, cognitive decline, dementia, and more49, 55.

What is the relevant historical background?

Throughout U.S. history, discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies entrenched racial residential segregation and concentrated poverty56, 57. Many urban areas in the U.S. experienced unrestrained industrialization without environmental regulations or land use controls, creating environmental problems, including water and air pollution, waste production, overconsumption of natural resources, and loss of green space58. Early U.S. environmental movements focused on conservation and nature preservation and did not consider urban environmental inequities or public health59. The built environment in under-resourced communities is a significant contributor to health inequities for people of color with low incomes60, 61, 62. Formerly redlined neighborhoods remain more likely to include vacant lots and blighted properties, older homes in poor condition, coal-fired power plants, hazardous waste disposal sites, and other health risks63. Communities with low incomes and communities of color still have fewer places to engage in outdoor activities, have less access to cooling shade, experience more extreme heat, and experience poorer air quality64, 65, 66.

The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 was the first federal legislation to identify and provide funds for air pollution research. The Clean Air Act of 1963 began the process of air pollution control, and many iterations of the legislation followed. Notably, the Clean Air Act of 1970 authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to establish, regulate, monitor, and enforce National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health from widespread hazardous air pollutants, especially particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead. This legislation regulates and enforces reductions of many types of air pollution from multiple pollution sources, including motor vehicles. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments established updated goals and technology standards to reduce hazardous air pollution67, 68, 69. The federal Clean Air Act has reduced disparities in hazardous pollutant exposure, although racial disparities continue to persist70. U.S. EPA standards for cleaner vehicles and fuels aim to reduce pollutants which harm human health and the environment, as emissions from personal and commercial vehicles, and their fuel, continue to be a large source of pollution exposure71.

In 1828, an electric train was the first electric vehicle invented. In 1832, the first small-scale electric car could travel 12 miles on one charge. In the early 1900s electric vehicles were more popular than gasoline cars, since they were more affordable, quieter, cleaner, and needed less maintenance. In 1920, that ended when the price of gasoline dropped, and electric vehicles became more expensive to manufacture. Most electric car companies went out of business and the internal combustion engine took over. Over time a few new electric vehicles were introduced, especially in the 1970s, but again gasoline prices dropped at the end of the decade and electric vehicles became less cost-effective72. Since the 1970s, road traffic volume has been generally increasing in the U.S.73. In the last two decades, from the early 2000s to the 2020s, electric vehicles have become popular again, especially as technology advances reduced the price of battery production, as many big name vehicle manufacturers developed and increased production of electric vehicles, as electric charging infrastructure has grown, and as climate change awareness has increased consumer interest in electric vehicles72.

The 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) established the initial framework for recognizing climate change as a global problem and several goals for addressing the issue and monitoring progress74. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021, the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans was signed by 38 nations with many other local and regional authorities, fleet owners, operators, and investors, and vehicle manufacturers as a commitment to supporting a rapid transition to all-electric or zero emission vehicles17. In 2021, about 6.6 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide, bringing the total to over 16 million electric vehicles14.

Equity Considerations
  • What electric vehicle initiatives are in place in your community and state? What outreach efforts are being used to spread awareness and encourage electric vehicle adoption, especially among households with lower incomes?
  • Who is leading local efforts to encourage electric vehicle initiatives? What coalitions are in place or being developed to support electric vehicle infrastructure in your community?
  • Which community organizations and partnerships are investing locally in private and public vehicle fleet transitions from internal combustion engines to all-electric vehicles? How are funds raised and allocated for fleet transitions in your community? Who is exploring grant opportunities for purchasing all-electric vehicles?
  • What neighborhoods in your community suffer from poor air quality and high levels of pollutant exposures? Who is assessing the impacts of traffic on human and animal health and the environment, for example, near schools, public green spaces, and areas with tourism? How are local residents engaged and represented in decision-making about urban planning and traffic routes?
Implementation Examples

At the federal level, President Biden’s administration has proposed that by 2023, two-thirds of new cars sold and 25% of new heavy trucks sold in the U.S. will be all-electric33. Since 2010, over 4.1 million battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S., which is less than 7% of light-duty vehicles sold34. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program provides $5 billion under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country. Funds will be allocated to states for installations over the next ten years35. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced a plan to transition their fleet to all-electric vehicles, beginning with the purchase of 9,250 electric vehicles and 14,000 charging stations36. Many federal grant and funding efforts support adopting electric vehicles; for example, the U.S. EPA’s Clean School Bus Program will provide $5 billion between FY 2022-2026 to replace existing diesel buses37. The U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture administer several funding programs specific to funding electric vehicle infrastructure in rural areas across the country38.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published a 2023 report evaluating state-level progress on transportation electrification that includes goal setting for vehicle and charging infrastructure adoption, incentives, transportation system efficiency, electric grid optimization, and outcomes. California ranks first among states in electrification policy. The other states listed in the top 10 are New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington State, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Maryland. The ACEEE report also includes policy recommendations for all states to increase transportation electrification4. California has implemented several policies that are stronger than U.S. standards to encourage electric vehicle adoption, including a plan for a completely electric bus fleet by 204025, 28. In California in the second quarter of 2023, 25% of new vehicle sales were zero-emissions vehicles34. California and New York have also included equity considerations in their transportation electrification policies and have dedicated electric vehicle utility spending specifically to communities with low incomes or communities experiencing environmental injustices, while other states need to develop equity considerations in this area4.

Shenzhen, China, a city of approximately 12 million people, has already completely switched to electric transportation with 16,000 electric buses, 22,000 electric taxis, and 1,800 electric chargers39. Several other cities – internationally and domestically – have set goals to operate only all-electric bus fleets, for example, Paris by 2025, Los Angeles by 2030, and Copenhagen by 203128. European Union regulations that increased standards for reduced CO2 emissions for cars and vans have been effective since 2020; regulations also support increased electric vehicle adoption40. The European Commission has proposed stronger regulations that increase emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles from those proposed in 2019; these proposals stipulate from 2030 on all new city buses would be zero-emission vehicles41. In Toronto, the goal is to have a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040, and their existing electric buses are charged overnight using nuclear power without producing any greenhouse gas emissions42.

In June 2019, San Francisco published a plan for the city and county to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; the plan includes transitioning to a zero-emissions public transit system, replacing all remaining diesel buses with electric buses by 2025, transitioning to 100% renewable electrical power, and supporting transit and infrastructure development to reduce dependence on personal vehicles43. King County, Washington has a plan to achieve a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2035 that includes a strategy for fleet procurement, charging station implementation, utility partnerships, workforce development, and more44. Project Connect is a community collaboration between the City of Austin, CapMetro, and the Austin Transit Partnership working to adopt an all-electric bus fleet and increase sustainable transportation in Central Texas45.

The Kansas City International Airport has transitioned many of its parking shuttle buses to electric vehicles and uses wireless charging to recharge the vehicles when stopped for passenger loading and unloading46. In Portland, Oregon, the Community Electric Vehicle project was piloted in 2017-2018 to address transportation issues in underserved communities, providing residents with access to an electric vehicle car share that was affordable and convenient. The case study report serves as an example for similar neighborhoods47.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

US DOE-AFDC State incentives - U.S. Department of Energy. Alternative fuels data center (AFDC): State laws and incentives.

US DOT-Rural EV toolkit 2023 - U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). Charging forward: A toolkit for planning and funding rural electric mobility infrastructure. 2023.

US DOE-Rural fact sheet - U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE). Rural opportunity tour fact sheet: President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law empowers the Department of Energy to deliver for rural America. 2022.

US EPA-CSBP - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). Clean School Bus Program (CSBP).

EVWG-SF roadmap - The Mayor’s Electric Vehicle Working Group (EVWG), Electric Mobility Subcommittee. Proposed electric vehicle roadmap for San Francisco.

PIRG-Electric buses - U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Electric buses: Clean transportation for healthier neighborhoods and cleaner air. 2018.

Project Drawdown - Project Drawdown. Drawdown: The world’s leading resource for climate solutions.

Project Drawdown-Transportation - Project Drawdown. Sector summary: Transportation.

RAND Europe-Lyons 2021 - Lyons G, Curry A, Rohr C. Decarbonising UK transport: Final report and technology roadmaps. RAND Europe. 2021.

US DOC-National tourism strategy 2022 - U.S. Department of Commerce (U.S. DOC), National Travel and Tourism Office, Tourism Policy Council. National travel and tourism strategy. 2022.


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