A longstanding “Indigenous Uber” service in Fresno Country, California has made the transition to electric vehicles, giving the area’s farmworkers and other low-income residents access to affordable, low-emissions transport.
“Born of a lack of public transit, a concern for the environment and stubborn resolve,” the Green Raiteros program in Huron, Fresno County, is seen as a way of putting “mobility justice” in action, writes The New York Times. Bred from a tradition of ride sharing in Latino communities, the program tries to “address the reality that low-income communities most affected by pollution from diesel trucks, highways, and other sources have had the least access to zero-emission vehicles.”
The raiteros system usually consists of volunteer drivers, often retired or semi-retired community members, who give rides to people who lack other mobility options, explains the Shared-Use Mobility Center.
Huron residents had been informally using raiteros for decades until Rey León, the city’s mayor and founder of the Latino Equity Advocacy & Policy Institute, laid the foundation for Green Raiteros in 2018. He used private funding and settlement money from a legal case to purchase two electric vehicles, a garage, and an office for the cause, transforming raiteros, or what he calls an Indigenous Uber service, to a clean transport fleet mainly used by farmworkers.
Through the program, drivers can use the shared EVs to shuttle elderly low-income residents to their medical appointments at no cost. Green Raiteros serves about 120 clients in total.
“It’s important because many people don’t drive, don’t have cars, and there is nobody to take them,” says Herminia Ibarra, a driver for Green Raiteros. “They are all farmworkers and would have to lose a day of work.”
The service and fleet have grown with additional grants from the California Air Resources Board, and from other state agencies and philanthropies. Ibirra can now choose a car from a fleet of five Chevy Bolts, three Tesla Ys, two Volkswagen e-Golfs, and a BMW i3, all stored outside an old diesel repair shop, to drive two retired farmworkers to their dialysis appointments 30 kilometres away.
Thanks to a US$700-million U.S. government fund to set up EV charging infrastructure in underserved areas, Huron’s effort has also brought 30 charging stations, strategically placed around the city, writes the Times.
“Inventive models for EV ride sharing are flourishing elsewhere, from rural, unincorporated communities outside Fresno to a new car-sharing program bringing EVs to affordable housing complexes in eight states,” the news story adds. BlueLA, a public-private effort in Los Angeles that started in 2015, offers car sharing for a $1 membership fee for low-income members, with rental fees of 15¢ per minute.
But the “most far-reaching concept” is the Evie Carshare, started last year in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, the Times says. It is the first municipally-owned car share in the United States and has a fleet of 170 EVs and 70 charging spots covering a 35-square-mile area with a high concentration of poverty.
Programs like Evie and Green Raiteros may address a pressing need for residents, but their viability is still uncertain, the Times says, since their model of offering below-market pricing does not ensure long-term financial sustainability or ability to scale. Car insurance can be hard to get, too.