Current grants for electrical vehicles in Ireland "privilege high-income people", according to a study by transport experts.
Based on evidence of where electrical vehicles (EVs) recharging points have been installed in private households, the equity gap is most pronounced in urban areas and especially south Co Dublin, suggest the researchers at Trinity College Dublin and Queens University Belfast.
Installation of subsidised recharge points in houses is seen in wealthy neighbourhoods, "leaving low-income and other marginalised groups behind towards the transition to an EV future", according to lead author Prof Brian Caulfield of TCD Centre for Transport Research.
Their findings published in Energy on Thursday back the conclusion of another study which – in short – found EVs “remain luxury goods”. This risks undermining the Government’s ambitious target to have almost one million EVs on Irish roads by 2030, which is being promoted as one of the main ways to decarbonise Irish transport, he added.
Alternative policies with a more beneficial impact on EV adoption while reducing social inequity are offered in other jurisdictions, they add. These include free-interest free loans for a new EV purchase – available in Scotland – and allowing for a longer repayment period for buyers.
Data on installation of EV household chargers are used in the study as a proxy for EV ownership. The results indicate urban areas are more likely to see higher concentrations of EV ownership, and an income and equity gap exists between those who have adapted electric mobility. This “suggests that lower-income categories may have a financial barrier to shifting to EVs”.
“Our findings demonstrate a correlation between high income and affluent areas and the density of household EV charging points. This is perhaps not that surprising given the high costs of purchasing a new EV compared to a non-EV,” Prof Caulfield added.
The research shows, however, areas with higher numbers of EV charging points also have higher levels of car ownership, suggesting the EV may be the second or third car in the household. The analysis also suggests, specifically in Dublin, that areas with higher levels of charging points are also areas with higher levels of public transport usage.
“Our research challenges the current model of providing support grants for household charging installations. Moreover, our findings suggest grants are most prominent in affluent, urban areas with high levels of public transport usage and/or availability,” Prof Caulfield said.
The study finds “significant pockets of forced car ownership in Ireland and that in these pockets, mainly in rural areas, there are considerably fewer public transport alternatives”.
The strong uptake in affluent areas has the potential of having an impact upon equity and just transition as the country seeks to decarbonise; and “if the price of traditional fuels increase, such policies could have a disproportionate impact upon those living in deprived areas with lower income levels”.
Alternatively, grants for commercial vehicles, which tend to have a higher turnover, can facilitate development of a secondhand market and increase EVs’ affordability, the study says. A grant scheme for taxis and other small public service vehicles was introduced recently.
“Such initiatives are expected to mature the EV market and bring price parity closer in time through exposure to technology. However, we argue that none of the policies aiming at private vehicle fleet growth will sufficiently address equity concerns,” Prof Caulfield said.
“Only transforming how we travel can reduce transport inequalities. Therefore, it is advisable to increase the support for sustainable and inclusive mobility strategies, such as shifting to walking, cycling and affordable public transport, reducing the demand for travel through compact development and enhancing rural accessibility as envisioned in the governmental plans.”