Driving an electric vehicle, or EV, is supposed to be good for the environment. This is why EVs are often referred to as "green" cars. And it would seem that an EV owner would save a significant amount of money on gas by driving a car that runs on electricity. However, according to recently published data, you may only be able to come out ahead with an EV if you live in one of four U.S. cities.

Why Some Cities are More EV-Friendly than Others

Last year, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) conducted a study on the cost benefit of owning an Electric Vehicle compared to gas vehicles in 25 different cities in the United States. Out of these 25 cities, they found that only four (Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco) had a total cost of ownership after six years that was below that of a gas-powered vehicle. Surprisingly, in all of the other cities, the cost of ownership for an EV was more than owning a gas-engine car.

What factors influenced this outcome?

  • Subsidies: Not every state offers a subsidy to offset the ownership costs associated with EVs, and the amount that is given by those that do varies widely. In the cities where consumers seemingly benefit from owning EVs the least (Detroit, Tampa and Minneapolis), no state subsidy is available. Apparently, this money from the state makes a big difference in whether or not it pays for drivers to go electric. It should be noted that five of the cities (Riverside, Seattle, Portland, Washington and Charlotte) in the study that offer their own subsidies on top of what their states provide are not among the four EV-friendly cities.
  • HOV Lanes: High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are reserved for drivers who are carpooling and have one or more passengers. However, those who drive electric vehicles or some hybrid cars are permitted to use HOV lanes with no passengers. This is a huge incentive for any commuter who is faced with rush-hour traffic every day.
  • Public Charger Availability: All EVs can only go so far on a single charge (100 miles or less for most models). Electric cars from Tesla can go much further (300+ miles), but are typically priced at $100,000 or more, which puts them out of reach for the average driver. For a person who does a significant amount of driving, access to public chargers is likely to make life with an EV much more convenient. Strangely, though, of the 25 cities studied, Portland ranked highest in public charger availability, but ranked relatively low (number 13) for overall EV consumer benefit. This may have something to do with the fact that Oregon offers very little in the way of a state subsidy for electric vehicle use.

What does this mean for you? If you are intrigued by the idea of owning an EV, it might be wise to do a cost benefit analysis before committing to a purchase. Depending on where you live, you may or may not save money over the long run. A small, gas-powered car may serve you just as well (without causing great harm to the environment), or you may consider "splitting the difference" and going with a hybrid vehicle.

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