300 Free Electric Cars Given To Public Housing Residents, All Gas & Tires Also Covered By Taxpayer

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RWC News 300 Free Electric Cars Given To Public Housing Residents, All Gas & Tires Also Covered By Taxpayer

Sacramento created a controversy by seeming to give out free cars to poor families. But, what the program really contains is an expensive headache that won’t help anyone.

A new assistance program in Sacramento aims to give 300 public housing residents free access to electric vehicles and will even cover their gas and maintenance.

This is a spin-off on a modification of the Cash-for-Clunkers inspired program introduced two years ago. In 2015, the California Air Resources Board introduced a new initiative designed to keep the air clean and provide help for poor families.

Under the program, low-income families in disadvantaged areas could turn in old junky vehicles that needed to be taken off the roads. They then received income-based sliding scale assistance, up to full-funding of $12,000, toward the purchase of an electric vehicle. They could also get up to $2,000 dollars for the charging unit. If they choose not to take it, they could receive up to $4,500 in vouchers for public transit.

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Now, Sacramento has taken the concept, and the environmental reasoning behind it, even further. Last Friday the city unveiled a new initiative. They spent $1.3 million purchasing electric cars through the car sharing program, ZipCar.

ZipCar is an operation that for a low-monthly fee allows people access to cars at airports and neighborhoods worldwide. As a green initiate, they have spread in popularity on college campuses. Students can swipe their membership cards at a nearby hub and zip about town or commute to other campus buildings. Then, they return the vehicle, and someone else can use it. This allows them to save on gas and insurance and keeps them from having to use cars that pollute the environment. In California, they are already available at Sacramento State University and University of California Davis.

RWC News 300 Free Electric Cars Given To Public Housing Residents, All Gas & Tires Also Covered By Taxpayer  RWC News 300 Free Electric Cars Given To Public Housing Residents, All Gas & Tires Also Covered By Taxpayer

Car Sharing and ride-sharing programs have increased in popularity nationwide, mainly in response to the green movement. But, Sacramento’s new initiative aimed at low-income residents, may end up being much ado about nothing.

But, the new “mini-fleet” in Sacramento’s as it has been called, is a government program designed to help low-income residents take care of their necessary errands. The city has set up ZipCar centers in three strategic low-income neighborhoods.

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Residents can sign up for memberships, for “Our Community Car-Share Program,” which run about the price of a Netflix account. There are 300 available memberships for the two cars in each of the three neighborhoods, and an additional 50 cars are made available at the train station. It is unclear at this point if the city will be subsidizing the price of the memberships.

The Kia Soul electric cars are maintained by ZipCar, so all the gas, insurance, and maintenance are covered. Residents rent the vehicles on a first-come, first serve basis. They are only allowed to  “check out” a car for a maximum three hour window, up to three times per week. There isn’t any indication as to what happens if the three hour time span is breached. It also raises the question, what legitimately can be done in less than three hours? In low-traffic time, a resident could possibly get a few items from a nearby store but that seems to be about it. Access to the vehicles are limited to those with addresses in the designated disadvantaged areas, this represents about 2,000 residents.

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“It’s providing accessible transportation to low-income people using the newest, cleanest technology,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “This is the definition of environmental justice.”

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The intent of the vehicles are to help people get to the necessary places they need to get to in life. The three-hour window doesn’t allow much time for “hitting the town,” so it’s unlikely that such shenanigans will be available on the taxpayer dime.

“Not having a car … it can be a real strain to get places safely,” said Thomas Hall, spokesman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Both programs are designed to get people more interested in electric cars, which so far, have been the domain of the well-educated and wealthy.

The ZipCar program is funded by a grant from the California Cap-and-Trade funds for the first year. Government agencies behind the subsidy also include the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, Mutual Housing California, the Sacramento Municipal District, the City of Sacramento, and Policy in Motion.

“We’re doing this to provide access to electric vehicles for these residents and to improve their quality of life,” said Steffani Charkiewicz of the Sacramento Air Quality District. “These vehicles will be available for short trips – a maximum of three hours at a time – and they’ll be able to go run errands, go to the grocery store, go to a doctor’s appointment, go to a job interview.”

While original opponents of the program protested on misunderstood claims that the city was subsidizing cars, the program in practice appears to be little more than a modified version of a metro bus system.

With all program’s caveats and rules, it seems it won’t be an abundant amount of help to anyone.  In reality, it appears that the government just spent a lot of money on something that’s not going to solve much. It seems the residents would be much better served by Uber, Lyft, or the public bus system. This one deserves a rating of a government fail.

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Emma Laftchu
I began reporting for RWC News on October 12th of 2016. Prior to that I was a reporter for WOKR Radio.

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