A car-sharing program that combines electric vehicles and income-tiered pricing has launched in one of Boston’s busiest and most diverse neighborhoods.
The Good2Go service, one of the first of its kind in the country, aims to curb carbon emissions while giving low-income Roxbury residents access to reliable, flexible, and affordable transportation. So far the service has deployed four 2019 Nissan Leafs, and dozens of beta testers are using the cars to commute to work, bring their children to school, and run errands.
“We are officially on the road,” said Susan Buchan, director of energy projects at clean energy nonprofit E4TheFuture, which oversees the new service.
Like well-known car-sharing services such as Zipcar, Good2Go gives users a chance to rent vehicles at an hourly rate. Drivers pick up the car, go about their business, then return the vehicle to the same spot they picked it up, paying only for the time they used. The goal is to give people the advantages of a personal vehicle, without the costs and logistical difficulties of car ownership.
Good2Go, however, tweaks the established car-sharing model to focus on environmental impact and economic equity. By using electric vehicles, the service could have a direct impact on the air quality in the community. And car-sharing programs have been shown to take as many as six to 14 cars off the road for each vehicle deployed, Buchan said, reducing emissions even before the switch to electric.
The pricing model is income-tiered so low-income customers pay $5 an hour instead of the standard hourly rate of $10. Participants qualify for the reduced rate if they are enrolled in any of 20 public assistance programs, such as Medicaid or veterans benefits. Program operators made such an expansive eligibility list to make it as simple as possible for low-income residents to qualify.
“We try to be as inclusive as possible,” Buchan said.
Two of the vehicles deployed thus far are parked at Roxbury Community College, and the other two are located near Nuestra Communidad, a local community development center. A third parking hub in a municipal lot will be added when the charging infrastructure is installed, though progress has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
In its first weeks, Good2Go has proven popular with early adopters. Roxbury resident Kim Dao signed up for the service after her car broke down. She uses the vehicles to ferry her two children to and from school and to commute to her job as a certified nursing assistant.
“The service has been helping me out a lot,” Dao said. “It’s a lot cheaper than getting a car. I can’t really afford a car right now — it’s perfect for me.”
E4TheFuture sees Good2Go as a chance to pursue two goals at once. The first: creating more transportation options in an area where many households cannot afford to own a car and public transit can be unreliable and subject to service cuts.
More transportation access can help residents economically by letting them get to workplaces, job interviews, and more affordable grocery stores, Buchan noted. Artisans or other small businesses can use the vehicles for deliveries. The service can also contribute to better health by making it easier for people to travel to receive medical attention or to buy fresh food. These are all concerns that have often been overlooked in places like Roxbury, environmental justice advocates note.
“It’s historically a very Black and very poor neighborhood,” said Gregory King, a board member at Roxbury Community College. “Any kind of service which can potentially provide temporary vehicle services is just a positive thing to have.”
Secondly, E4TheFuture wanted to bring electric vehicles to those who can’t necessarily afford the technology on their own. Though lower-income populations are often left out of environmental conversations, any real change will require participation and buy-in from all segments of society, climate activists say.
“We don’t want these marginalized environmental justice communities to be left behind in joining this transition,” Buchan said. “They care about the environment too, and they’re going to need to know how to drive this technology.”
The program was initially funded by a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center as part of its efforts to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. The clean energy center appreciated the proposal’s potential to keep down car ownership at a time when the city is struggling with traffic congestion.
The grantmakers also liked the project’s focus on collaborating with local organizations.
“We’re making sure our programming is speaking to the needs of the folks in the local areas where the projects are being installed,” said Ariel Horowitz, program director at the clean energy center.
One of the major challenges in launching the service was insurance. Because many different people would be driving each car, insurers considered it a high-risk situation and priced coverage accordingly — as high as $25,000 annually per car. Eventually the service was able to find a company that charged a more reasonable premium.
The coronavirus pandemic also complicated the launch of the program. In addition to the infrastructure delays, many people are hesitant about the idea of sharing space with others right now. Good2Go has therefore stocked each vehicle with cleaners and personal protective equipment drivers can use to increase their comfort.
The pandemic has also prevented the operators from holding in-person events to introduce residents to the vehicles and the service. The program will distribute paper flyers and hold virtual outreach meetings online until one-on-one interaction becomes safer.
Four more vehicles are slated to roll out soon. As the service grows, environmental and transportation advocates hope it is just the beginning of finding new ways for residents to get around reliably and affordably.
“We need to build more alternatives to give folks an opportunity to get access to non-public transportation,” King said.