Every day, Martin Parks makes the 200-mile round-trip commute between his home in the high desert town of Victorville and USC where he works as a chef at Seeds Marketplace. After moving to Victorville from Los Angeles, Parks traded his gas-guzzling Chrysler sedan for a more efficient—and carpool lane-friendly—plug-in electric Ford hybrid.
"I really had to think deep on whether I wanted luxury or affordability and convenience," says Parks of his decision to buy a hybrid. "It's still luxurious inside, and it's pretty good on gas. I get about 40 or 50 miles to the gallon depending on the charge."
Governor Jerry Brown is hoping more car buyers will make the same choice. Tuesday, the state updated its rebate program for many low and mid-income people purchasing all-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell cars. The update raised the maximum amount of the rebate to $7,000.
The state's original rebate program is part of a plan introduced in 2013 by Governor Brown to move toward the target of 1.5 million electric cars on California roads by 2025.
Seventy five percent of new electric car buyers make more than six figures, according to a survey published in September by the Clean Air Resources Board, which backs the governor's plan.
The program aims to entice low and mid-income buyers to go electric by offering a rebate for people earning less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty level—$35,000 a year for an individual and $72,000 for a family of four.
"Our goal is making sure there are incentives for disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately affected by air pollution," said Melanie Turner, a spokesperson for the California Environmental Protection Agency.
One potential hurdle in convincing lower income communities like South LA to buy electric cars is a lack of charging locations. Looking at an interactive map published by Plugshare, an app that locates charging stations, there are more than a dozen stations clustered around USC, but only a few scattered across less affluent neighborhoods such as Crenshaw and Jefferson Park.
USC Transportation Professor James E. Moore II says that government planners should take into account a number of hidden costs, which he refers to as risk, when phasing in plans to convince people to buy electric cars including maintenance and reliability.
"Any new technology option carries risks that old technologies options don't," says USC Transportation Professor James E Moore II. "Who bears this risk? The low-income households that we hope will buy these vehicles?"
For Parks at least, the cost was well worth it. He not only saves money on gas and enjoys a quicker commute, but also feels good about helping the environment.
"When I started to learn more about the impact on the environment, that really opened my eyes to see this is a no-brainer. I'm winning, the environment is winning—who wouldn't make that decision?"