Minneapolis & Saint Paul

HOURCAR centers equity in outreach for new electric vehicle service

Launching the EV Spot Network with community guidance

Expanding Access to
Electric Vehicles

 

While the Coronavirus pandemic has kept many of us in our homes, a coalition of public and private partners have been hard at work to bring electric vehicle (EV) car sharing to Minnesota.

The project, known as the EV Spot Network, is a collaboration between the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and private organizations including Xcel Energy and HOURCAR that aims to create a network of 150 shared electric vehicles, supported by 70 charging hubs placed around the cities. The project builds upon the existing HOURCAR car-sharing model to bring electric vehicle access to a broader audience.

 

A primary goal was to center equity in the process. The team recognized that disadvantaged communities often faced more barriers to accessing transportation and historically were left out of visioning processes.

Shannon Crabtree, Senior Planner & Community Development Manager with HOURCAR

Setting the stage for new EVs

The project would bring the Twin Cities into a select group of cities around the country that are exploring electric vehicle car sharing, with other notable projects taking place in cities like Boston, Denver, and St. Louis. EV car sharing is still a budding concept, with few well-established examples to look toward for guidance. This made the community engagement process all the more important for the EV Spot Network team. 

With a Seed Grant from Metro CERT and support from other organizations, HOURCAR led up the community outreach portion of the EV Spot Network project. The outreach program, which began in 2019, was designed to assess the needs and desires of the communities that would utilize these services. Special emphasis was placed on neighborhoods identified as areas of concentrated poverty by the Metropolitan Council that didn’t have existing HOURCAR services.

 

TwinCitiesElectricVehicleMobilityNetworkIntro.png

An emphasis on equity

Shannon Crabtree, a senior planner and community development manager for HOURCAR, shared, “A primary goal was to center equity in the process. The team recognized that disadvantaged communities often faced more barriers to accessing transportation and historically were left out of visioning processes.” A successful community engagement process, they reasoned, would need to be deliberate in addressing these concerns. Traditional outreach approaches would be key, but they needed to be supplemented with strategies that worked to directly capture the voices of underrepresented demographics too. This context informed one of the key methods of community engagement: the formation of the Core Partners Council. 

The Core Partners Council was a cohort of local organizations and leaders that represented communities from across the Twin Cities, ranging from the West Side Community Organization, which represents neighborhoods in southern Saint Paul, to Juxtaposition Arts based in North Minneapolis. These organizations leveraged their community connections and knowledge to gather local input on the proposed project, and then returned to the broader Council to share their findings. This model allowed for flexibility in the engagement of partner organizations and leveraged the unique skills of each within their own communities. 

From the feedback gathered by the Core Partner Council, as well as the suite of other outreach strategies that were employed, the HOURCAR team was able to build a picture of what communities were thinking about the project, and in particular, what they thought could be improved. The primary concerns centered around issues like the program’s accessibility and the cost of the service. However, before the outreach could be ramped up in earnest, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted things. 

The year of uncertainty didn’t change the underlying messages that were coming in through outreach. If anything, it highlighted that access to transportation was as important for Twin Cities communities as ever.

Shannon Crabtree, Senior Planner & Community Development Manager with HOURCAR

Overcoming challenges and charging ahead

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns deeply impacted the EV Spot Network team’s approach to outreach. Some outreach strategies, like canvassing apartment buildings, became entirely impossible due to health guidelines, while other strategies had to be re-imagined. For example, meetings of the Core Partner Council were moved online, as were other community outreach meetings. The uprisings following the murder of George Floyd similarly placed strain on the outreach process; communities’ capacities were understandably stretched thinner and focused elsewhere. The timeline of the outreach was extended to respect and support the needs of partner organizations.  

However, Crabtree emphasized, “The year of uncertainty didn’t change the underlying messages that were coming in through outreach. If anything, it highlighted that access to transportation was as important for Twin Cities communities as ever.” The team drafted a series of recommendations to help address the concerns raised by community members:

  1. Reduce costs and implement a low-income rate structure to increase affordability
  2. Expand engagement and awareness building efforts, including through the creation of videos that explain the car-sharing process in locally spoken languages
  3. Upgrade a website to streamline usage and registration processes
  4. Translate existing resources into multiple languages
  5. Incorporate ride sharing directly into the program, in order to further reduce cost and expand access to those who lack driver’s licenses or are otherwise unable to drive

Crabtree shared that they believe this engagement process has been fruitful, and that the proposed reforms are large steps in the right direction for bringing electric vehicle access to everyone. However, they also emphasized that outreach will be ongoing as the project progresses and expands from here. The Spot Network team intends to continue working to remove barriers for underserved communities. 

 

MSP-locations.jpg

Maps of general charging hub locations in Minneapolis (left) and Saint Paul (right). Credit: EV Spot Network.

 

Download the full report on HOURCAR’s community outreach process to dig into the details. You can also read more about their efforts in stories from Sahan Journal and the McKnight Foundation.

Project Snapshot

 
  • Clean Energy Focus: Electric Vehicles Community Engagement
  • Metro CERT Seed Grant: $5,000
  • Total Project Cost: $105,000
  • Other Funds: Energy Foundation, MPLS Foundation Climate Action/Racial Equity, Saint Paul Foundation
  • Project Team: Shannon Crabtree, HOURCAR and Samantha Henningson, NRDC/City of Saint Paul, City of Minneapolis
  • People Involved and Reached: 1,117
 
More stories, delivered

Sign up for our email newsletter

We encourage reuse and republishing of this story. All Clean Energy Resource Teams stories are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning you can share and adapt the work as long as you give us credit. We'd also love it if you link back to the original piece. Have questions or want to chat? Drop us a line.