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Recap: Mobility Best Practices and E-Mobility Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Accelerating EV Adoption

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dr. Shelley Francis of EVNoire Continues U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s 2021 Thought Leadership Series 

Shelley Francis
Dr. Shelley Francis speaks during the U.S. DOT Volpe Center's 2021 thought leadership series. (U.S. DOT Volpe Center photo)

On September 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) welcomed Dr. Shelley Francis to continue its 2021 thought leadership speaker series, Innovation for a Sustainable, Equitable Transportation System.

Francis is the co-founder and principal of EVNoire, which focuses on E-mobility best practices and E-mobility diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and electrification strategies. Francis is frequently sought out for her expertise in E-mobility, the public health impacts of transportation emissions, and environmental justice and currently serves as a National Board Director for the Electric Auto Association. 

The session was hosted and moderated by U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director Anne D. Aylward.

This post provides a recap of Francis’ talk. You can also watch video highlights from the event.

Historical Context for Public Policy Impacts on Equity 

In the 1980s, researchers and activists identified the disproportionate burden of environmental degradation on minority and low-incoming populations. The term “environmental justice” came to describe the intersection of human rights or social justice activism and environmentalism. Today, “frontline communities” describe those who face disproportionate and significant impacts of climate change, from extreme weather and sea-level rise to pollutant exposure and reduced air quality. 

"E-mobility should be a diverse and inclusive industry."
-Shelley Francis, PhD, EVNoire

According to Francis, “EVNoire envisions a world where electric vehicles are widely accessible and empower frontline communities who are impacted first and worst by climate change.” The company believes that engaging frontline communities is the key to unlocking the potential of electrification. 

Francis discussed housing and transportation policies enacted generations ago that created and exacerbated inequalities among racial and ethnic minorities. Policies and practices like real-estate redlining have resulted in significant disparities in home-ownership rates, and transportation policies that created the interstate highway system and other roadway development projects bisected historically Black and Brown communities, leaving a legacy of isolation and lack of access to a variety of services. A new focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in transportation and land-use policy could be one element of a restorative justice approach to right past wrongs. 

Justice and Access to New Mobility Resources

Looking through this historical lens, Francis advocates for the expansion of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and EV sales in minority and economically diverse communities. Francis underscored that engaging frontline communities is the key to unlocking the potential of electrification. 

Recently, Francis worked closely with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and a group of partners on a pilot project to install EV charging infrastructure on the streetlight system. The three-year project, which began in 2021, is designed to test and demonstrate the benefits of curbside charging for plug-in electric vehicles at existing on-street parking locations. Francis gathered feedback from diverse communities on EV charging locations and then worked with stakeholders to map charging sites that provided equitable access. Her research revealed variations in preferences for charging locations based on race and income and resulted in a pilot-project that was more responsive to the needs of under-served populations. 

Francis cited the burdens that minority and diverse communities face from roadway transportation emissions, including asthma and short-term effects like wheezing and skin irritation to long-term effects like cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and impacts on other major organ systems.

EVNoire promotes cleaner roadway transportation options in the form of plug-in EVs (PEVs) and has raised awareness about “charging deserts” in communities that are primarily Black and Brown; using an example from New York, Francis compared the number of charging stations in Manhattan’s Upper East Side (70 stations) with East Harlem (seven charging stations). Factors that may be correlated to this disparity include wide variations in home ownership rates and median incomes in these communities. 

An Engagement Model that Centers DEI and Sustainability 

Incorporating a DEI perspective into transportation policies and EV activities can help break down barriers to EV ownership in communities of color. Francis noted that it is critical to build relationships with industry and equipment manufacturers to ensure that e-mobility is a diverse and inclusive sector, and that historically over-burdened communities have access to new economic opportunities in the EV space.

This approach offers a model for engagement that centers the stakeholders and communities who may have been excluded from transportation policymaking in the past. Efforts to support community-led solutions, convene affected communities and listen to their ideas, and build networks and relationships with trusted intermediary sources can create more inclusive ideas and practices around electrification and EV adoption.

View video highlights from Dr. Francis’s September 14, 2021, talk. To learn more about the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s 2021 thought leadership program, please contact U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director of Strategic Initiatives for Research and Innovation Ellen E. Bell.

Video Highlights

Highlights from "Mobility Best Practices and E-Mobility DEI in Accelerating EV Adoption"

Dr. Shelley Francis on the Impact Climate Change Has on Various Communities

Dr. Shelley Francis on Helping Communities Achieve Mobile Equity

The views of the speaker do not represent the views of U.S. DOT.

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to improve the nation's transportation system by anticipating emerging issues and advancing technical, operational, and institutional innovations for the public good.