Guess Who Owns Electric Vehicles in Maryland? Hint: It's Not Always Who You Would Think

Under the Clean Air Act, Central Maryland has been an ozone nonattainment area for many years. Because of concerns over climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions and ground-level ozone experienced during hot summers, the State of Maryland has set a goal to reach 300,000 electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025 by subsidizing the purchase of EVs and private and public sector charging facilities. According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), the total number of EVs registered in the state increased from 609 in FY 2012 to 6,788 in FY 2016. Of the 6,788 EVs, 39% were battery electric vehicles and 61% were plug-in hybrids.Dr. Andrew Farkas

Maryland EV owners are eligible for a federal tax credit of $7,500 and state excise tax credit of up to $3000, depending on battery capacity and funding availability. There is a cap of $60,000 on vehicle purchase price for state tax credit eligibility; research shows that for owners of high-end luxury EVs financial incentives are not important to the purchasing decision. Further, Maryland EV owners, depending on the technology, pay little or no motor fuel tax to the state's transportation trust fund. There are significant monetary incentives toward purchasing a new EV, but there are no incentives for purchasing a pre-owned one.

My colleagues and I at Morgan State University (Dr. Hyeon-Shic Shin and doctoral student Amirreza Nickkar) analyzed data from a survey we conducted with the help of the MVA. MVA identified 4,282 EV (non-fleet) owners by county in summer 2016. They notified the owners by letter of survey objectives and a web link that took owners to our online survey. We received 1,323 responses (31% return).

We found that EV owners are white (85%), male (75%), well educated, affluent (80% >$100,000 household income), older, urban/suburban-oriented, environmentally conscious, and they charge their cars at home (similar to findings in other areas of the country). "Environmental concerns" is the most important factor for purchasing and driving an EV; "price and status" is the second most important factor; "efficiency and performance" of the EV is the third most important. EV owners with lower household income (<$100,000), the remaining 20%, are younger, exurban/rural oriented, and concerned about price and status of the EV. In essence government at state and federal levels has been subsidizing mostly affluent households to purchase new EVs, which opens up a huge equity issue.Electric vehicle charging spots at Tangier Outlets in Savannah, Georgia.

As an additional incentive to increase EV market share, the state committed to adding charging facilities at Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) rail stations near Baltimore. The first installations took place at selected Baltimore and Central Maryland commuter rail and light rail stations with parking spaces. Additional charging facilities at other commuter and light rail stations were planned. Interestingly, no charging stations were planned for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) METRO rail stations in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, even though there is a high concentration of EV owners in those counties. WMATA's contracts for parking operations did not allow for design and construction within the state's time frame, so the funding was allocated to additional MTA sites instead. It should be noted that the state developed this strategy before our survey was conducted and the data analyzed. There are now nearly 200 outlets for charging EVs installed at state-owned or leased facilities.

The underlying assumption to the state's investment in charging facilities at rail stations was that many EV owners are also rail transit users when commuting to work, perhaps because they are environmentally conscious. Yet, our survey found that very few EV owners used rail transit for the commute to work prior to EV purchase (5%), and even fewer after purchase (2.6%). Yes, indeed, we confirmed that most EV owners are environmentally conscious, but they probably believe they are preserving the environment by buying and using EVs. As more employers add charging facilities at the work site and provide preferential parking, the incentive to commute with an EV grows.

To overcome the inequity of current EV purchase incentives, we recommend that the state focus on public charging stations in exurban/rural and multifamily locations, where they are scarce. The state should also steer financial incentives toward EV taxis, shared-ride and car-sharing fleets, and pre-owned EVs, which would promote purchases among lower income households. Incentives, of course, have to be coupled with education campaigns that inform people about the benefits of EV ownership.

Dr. Andrew Farkas is the director of the National Transportation Center and the Urban Mobility & Equity Center, which are both housed at Morgan State University.