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NYC’s Electric Vehicle Age Begins, Slowly

The Biden administration has set a national goal for half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric powered, saying that switching to battery power is essential to keep up with other countries and fight climate change. It has also launched a $5 billion program to help cities and states build out networks of charging stations and promoted financial incentives for consumers to buy electric cars.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation last year requiring that all new passenger cars and trucks sold in the state be zero-emission by 2035, and has also pushed to electrify the state’s fleet for executive agencies. “We’re at a pivotal point in our fight to tackle the climate crisis and transition to a clean energy future,” she said in a statement.

But as more cities and states have turned to electric vehicles, the industry has scrambled to keep up. Many manufacturers have had limited inventory during the pandemic, and large truck and bus makers are just beginning to sell electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles can also cost much more than gas vehicles, with an electric school bus priced up to three times more than a diesel one. Though it is usually cheaper to run vehicles on electricity than gas or diesel, electricity rates designed for large industrial users like private factories often cancel out savings for municipalities, said Kevin Miller, the director of public policy for ChargePoint, a company that helps cities and other customers set up charging stations.

To power electric vehicles, New York City has built a network of 1,091 chargers on curbs and in garages and parking lots, of which about 100 chargers, including the 86 on curbs, are intended for public use.

Robust networks of chargers have been essential in global cities like Beijing that are leading the switch to electric vehicles, said Zhongjie Lin, an associate professor of urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Still, he added, New York could learn from Beijing’s missteps by thinking through where to deploy the chargers.

Beijing concentrated chargers in the city center, Mr. Lin said, when it would have made more sense based on usage patterns to put them in residential areas where demand outstrips supply or near public transit stations where people park their electric cars. Charging stations “are a huge investment,” he said, “so we should get them right.”

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