Are electric cars only for the elite?


Illustration by Jackson Epps

Jacob Mandel

Turning into Redwood’s west parking lot in my dad’s navy blue Toyota Camry, I crane my neck to gaze at the four electric car charging stations situated across from the main office. The charging stations, along with the various electric car models using them, serve as a reminder of an unrealistic aspiration my family has had for the past half year. 

Last May, as my birthday crept up on me and my twin brother, my parents began contemplating car options that would accommodate transportation for the entire family. We quickly realized the financial burden two licenses with insurance would have on our budget (my brother and I are still car-less), but the conversation about different vehicle options led my family to look into electric cars. 

Unfortunately, without a garage at either of my parents’ apartments, and therefore no charging outlet available, buying an electric car would be an impractical investment. With the generally high cost of electric cars combined with the inability to charge the car overnight or while at home, my parents scrapped our vision of an environmentally friendly car in our parking space. 

My family’s situation emulates the struggle of apartment-dwellers in addition to lower-income families in California, a state which boasts the highest usage of e-cars in the United States per 1,000 people, according to In 2019 alone, electric car sales have skyrocketed 63.7 percent according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite California’s massive increase in electric car sales in recent years, electric vehicle options for low-income families have remained insufficient and must improve soon for the betterment of our environment.

In general, electric cars are more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts, which makes it a challenge for low-income families to purchase zero emission vehicles. According to Edmunds, an online car research company, the most affordable electric cars range from $31,000 to $40,000, whereas numerous hybrid options (such as the 2019 Toyota Prius) are listed lower than $25,000. Naturally, gas cars are often cheaper; the 2019 Chevrolet Cruze, for example, is listed at just under $18,000. 

Additionally, many families’ ability to charge an electric car is hindered by living in apartments where the charging process is inconvenient. Charging an electric vehicle at home requires an outlet from which owners can charge their cars with a portable charger. The vast majority of apartment-dwellers do not park in individual garages, and are therefore without outlets. 

Moreover, California’s public charging stations are concentrated predominantly around the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Outside of these two hubs for electric transportation, electric car chargers are dismally sporadic, sometimes located close to one hundred miles before the next station.

The evident scarcity of electric charging stations outside of the Bay Area and L.A. is an unfortunate indication of California’s failure to ensure electric car usage in low-income areas. Despite promoting state-wide environmentally friendly initiatives in past years, California has only established sufficient amounts of electric charging stations in the wealthiest areas of the state. 

For instance, if the California legislature wishes to meet it’s 2030 goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent, charging options need to be available for low-income families and charging stations must be more evenly distributed throughout the state.

Proponents of electric car use may argue that while the initial price of electric cars may be more expensive, the cost of their future maintenance is much lower than gas cars. A study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Institute in 2018 found that electric cars, on average, cost less than half as much to operate than gas-powered cars. This stems from the fact that gas cars require frequent refuelings in addition to oil changes. However, electric cars still need brake, battery and motor maintenance. More significantly, the inadequate and infrequent amount of charging stations in low-income areas can make charging an electric car challenging, whereas gas stations are abundant throughout California. 

Ultimately, this issue is an excellent representation of how economic injustices can stifle environmental change. Similar to how it is difficult for low-income families to purchase sustainable and organic food, the sheer price and lack of available charging for electric vehicles prevent many families from purchasing an electric car.

It can be easy for me to be blinded by Marin’s great environmental consciousness and abundance of electric vehicles, but positive environmental progression requires money. It is time California begins to make environmentally friendly options in transportation available for low-income individuals all across the state. California may be the forerunner in environmental consciousness in America, but clearly, massive steps must be taken in the future to ensure that all Californians can participate in our mission for a lower carbon footprint, regardless of income or housing status.