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His EV trip through the Southeast required a charging station map — and privilege

Richard Cunningham and Kai Ryssdal Nov 8, 2023
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"I wasn’t necessarily as versed in just the long-distance aspect of EV travel with public charging," says Adam Mahoney, a reporter with Capital B News. "So it ended up taking that initial trip from being a five-hour drive to almost 12 hours." Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

His EV trip through the Southeast required a charging station map — and privilege

Richard Cunningham and Kai Ryssdal Nov 8, 2023
Heard on:
"I wasn’t necessarily as versed in just the long-distance aspect of EV travel with public charging," says Adam Mahoney, a reporter with Capital B News. "So it ended up taking that initial trip from being a five-hour drive to almost 12 hours." Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Owning an electric vehicle “still requires a lot of privilege,” according to Adam Mahoney, a reporter for Capital B News. 

Mahoney planned a seven-day road trip through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. When the rental car company ran out of gas-powered vehicles, Mahoney decided it was time to try an electric vehicle. Despite driving through a part of the country where many EVs are made, Mahoney had trouble finding public charging stations, particularly in Black communities.

In his essay for Capital B News, Mahoney writes, “The more I drove, the more evident it was that owning an electric vehicle today still requires a lot of privilege, and sometimes it felt like another example of the clean energy shift not bringing the Black community along.” Mahoney spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about how Black communities are being left behind during the EV transition.

The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. 

Kai Ryssdal: First of all, I guess, why did you decide to take this trip?

Adam Mahoney: Yeah, I mean, it was not necessarily by design. The rental car place I was renting from in Charlotte actually ran out of gas-powered cars. And I needed to do a drive to Florida. And they only had EVs. So I just went for it.

Ryssdal: In a nutshell, how did it go?

Mahoney: It was definitely an experience. I mean, I made it from point A to point B in one piece, so that’s really all I could ask for. I did have a few different, you know, interactions, interesting interactions with folks along the way. And I wasn’t necessarily as versed in just the long-distance aspect of EV travel with public charging and things like that. So it ended up taking that initial trip from, you know, being a five-hour drive to almost 12 hours because of the issues with public charging. But after that, for the rest of the week, it was actually pretty smooth sailing.

Ryssdal: Well, that’s good to hear, the rest of the week part. But let’s talk about that whole public charging thing, because one of the things with EVs — and you point this out in the piece — is that you have to plot your route so that you can stop and charge the car and find the right level charger and all of that. And I guess my question is, even though you’re traveling through the part of the country where a whole bunch of EVs are made, there’s not a lot of public charging infrastructure.

Mahoney: Exactly. Yeah. You know, in the Southeast part of the country, that’s where roughly 40% of EV investments have been made over the last couple of years. So, you know, that’s where a lot of that build-out is taking place. But that public infrastructure is not there. So basically, what I didn’t know is that there’s a lot of different maps that will help you map out that trip, right, map where chargers are, but just throughout that region, free public chargers are lacking, which then requires you to kind of, you know, sit and wait for hours at a time once you do actually find one. 

Ryssdal: Right. And it increases the tension, right? I mean, you know, if you’re getting down there on 15% of your EV battery, you’re looking around pretty good for a place to charge your car.

Mahoney: Exactly. Yeah. And you know, because not as many folks are driving EVs in that part of the country, you might also pull up to a public charger, and there’ll be gas-powered cars parked in the parking spaces, just because folks aren’t expecting people to be using that infrastructure. 

Ryssdal: Well, so look, let me get to the whole “lot of folks in that part of the country aren’t driving EVs.” You talked about this in the piece, and it’s one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you. How many young Black people did you see — or even middle-aged Black people — did you see when you were stopped to charge? My guess is not that many.

Mahoney: Yeah, you’re exactly right there. So I stopped to charge in different cities in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and I didn’t see another Black person until Orlando. So it did put me in, you know, as a young Black person, put me in a couple of precarious situations, like I wrote in the piece. The first place I charged in a small town in South Carolina, I counted multiple Confederate flags. And then I was just, you know, I had to sit in my car, an uncomfortable situation, for multiple hours while I was waiting for that public charger to get me to at least a place where I could go then find a pay charger or somewhere else. 

Ryssdal: Do you know, off the top of your head, what the percentage of Black ownership of EVs is in this economy?

Mahoney: Yes, I think it’s about 2% as of the last estimates.

Ryssdal: Right, so not surprising that even in that part of the country, you didn’t see that many people driving a car who look like you.

Mahoney: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, it doesn’t necessarily make as much sense economically right now to own an electric car in that part of the country just because, one, as we know, EVs’ out-of-lot price is a little bit higher than gas-powered cars. The infrastructure isn’t there. And gas is just a lot cheaper in that part of the country than on the West Coast, where EVs are really taking off right now.

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