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Outer Boroughs Lack EV Charging Stations


As part of WFUV's Issues Tank, Ashwin Bhandari takes a look at the geographical disparity of charging stations in New York City.

Last summer, the city heralded the opening of its first electric vehicle charging station as a significant step in reaching the goals of PlaNYC -- the city's self imposed plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30% by 2030.

A year later, about 50 new stations have opened in the New York area but almost all are in Manhattan -- where only 8% of the city's car owners live.

Steve Cohen, the executive director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says if the city really wants to make changes to the environment; it's building on the wrong island. "The point is, the place where we can really make a dent in the city's air pollution would be the outer boroughs and that's really where we have to put the charging infrastructure over time."

The Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability asked Cohen’s students in Columbia’s MPA ESP program to put together a report on “enhancing the feasibility of electric vehicles in New York City.” They found the areas with the most potential growth for electric vehicle use to be in Northwest Brooklyn and Western Queens.

So why the continued disparity in stations between Manhattan and the rest of the city? The answer is as old as New York itself – real estate.

Fifty percent of Manhattan car owners have assigned parking spaces in a private lot or commercial garage, second highest only to Staten Island. Additionally, according to a 2009 Park It! Guide, Manhattan has 103,000 licensed off street parking spaces. Given the long time required to charge a battery to capacity, city officials say it makes more sense to install the first wave of stations in parking garages as opposed to gas stations which have a quick turnover.

In fact, says Scott Miller, the director of the ChargePoint America program for Coulomb Technologies, the parking garages came to them to install charging systems, not the other way around.

But when WFUV went to visit several garages listed on the ChargePoint website, the spaces designated for electric vehicle charging were empty.

"I'd say like anything else the vehicles are not yet in large supply in New York and nor anywhere else in the country for that matter" said Miller, before adding that when the vehicles do arrive "New York will be better prepared than any other city".