Evie showed off its new fleet at the Pride parade in Minneapolis at June. Credit: Sheila Mulrooney Eldred

Rebecca Nelson used to be a faithful bus user, memorizing schedules, ducking into the gas station nearest the stop to stay warm when she missed the Number 61 in winter. 

But the 55-year-old East Side resident has a new preferred ride: Evie Carshare’s electric vehicles, which launched in May with a mission of serving people in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by environmental problems.

“The car is just much easier because you can throw your bags in the trunk and go whenever,” Nelson said of the one-way service. 

The electric vehicle car share operates with the established local non-profit HourCar, and the pair are already vying with Sacramento as the country’s biggest. Evie and HourCar each have about 100 vehicles; HourCar, which launched in 2005 in the Twin Cities, operates about 100 hybrid and non-electric vehicles on a plan-ahead, hub-based system, and Evie currently maintains 100 vehicles for spur-of-the-moment use. (Supply chain issues have delayed 70 of the vehicles in the planned-for fleet of 170.)

Unlike most large-scale car-share programs that are owned by for-profit companies, Evie was designed to address transportation and environmental equity issues. By 2026, the program wants 50 percent of its users to be people of color, 40 percent very low-income people, and 20 percent very low-income BIPOC. Transportation is the No. 1 greenhouse gas pollutant in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Preliminary data gathered during the program’s trial period showed that most users who responded to the survey were white with incomes under $80,000 (42 percent of respondents had incomes under $50,000). Updated data will be released after the fleet is at full capacity, said growth and marketing director James Vierling. The program has received $12.75 million in funding from a variety of sources including $4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, $3.65 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, $4 million from Xcel Energy, $750,000 from the City of St. Paul, $350,000 from the City of Minneapolis, plus more from private foundations.

Gas prices are so high right now, it’s just ridiculous–and I’m wanting to be proactive against climate change.”

rebecca nelson, east side resident

To keep cars available for the desired demographic, 90 percent of the charging stations are located in designated areas of concern for environmental justice. Some higher-income neighborhoods (such as Highland Park in St. Paul and Linden Hills in Minneapolis) are excluded from the 35-square-mile “home area” (cars can leave the zone during trips, but must be parked in the home zone to conclude a trip). When too many cars get clustered in one area, Evie staff shuffle them back to areas of need.  

Why it’s needed

Minneapolis and St. Paul ranked 18th out of 73 cities in one list of the most affordable cities for public transit. Low-cost commuting options from low-income neighborhoods in the Twin Cities have limitations.

“The bus is OK if it’s going to where you’re going,” said Jack Byers, executive director of one of the neighborhood organizations, the Payne–Phalen Community Council, that partnered with Evie. “The bus works well for people going downtown; however, downtown has a lot of professional, white-collar jobs. Not everybody in this part of town has a college education – in fact, most don’t.” 

Manufacturing and industrial jobs are not often downtown or near bus lines, he added. “When you have to bus downtown and then transfer back out to the ‘burbs, it doesn’t work so well,” he said. “Unfortunately people are spending a lot of time on transit or a lot of money buying a car. It’s really prohibitive for people who are already stretched.”

Nationally, Black people living in cities spend about 25 percent more of their budget on transportation than white people living in cities, according to the Institute for Sustainable Communities. White people have three times more access to car-sharing programs than Black people, and 2.5 times more access than Latinos.

“This [Evie] just enables people to have another option that’s frankly easier on the budget and more comfortable,” Byers said. 

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Still, most car-sharing programs haven’t caught on (remember Car2Go?), and they don’t seem to have reduced the number of cars Americans own. In 2001, it was an average of 1.89 cars per household; in 2017, it was 1.88, even though a 2010 study showed that each car share vehicle resulted in 9-13 cars being taken off the road.

A range of pricing options mean lower-income people can pay $1 per month plus $6 per hour of car use; the application fee is also reduced from $25 to $1. Higher-income people pay $7 per month plus $6.50 an hour for a similar plan.

“Gas prices are so high right now, it’s just ridiculous – and I’m wanting to be proactive against climate change,” Nelson said. “Now I’m like, ‘Oh look, it’s really easy AND I’m helping the environment.’ ”

That’s a common sentiment among people living in neighborhoods designated as areas for environmental justice, said Tabitha Montgomery,  Executive Director of Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood organizations that partnered with HourCar said they want to help residents change behaviors that contribute to environmental health, Montgomery said.

“It lets us as a community take steps to support the beliefs we have,” she said.

As the network expands, she added, making those choices will become easier if cars are readily available outside of places of worship, schools, grocery stores and malls.  

That process is taking longer due to supply chain shortages, but last week, 12 of the expected 70 Nissan Leafs arrived and will be added to the fleet in coming weeks.

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred writes stories about health equity for Sahan Journal. As a freelance journalist, she has written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, NPR, STAT News and...