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No Californian Left Behind: Clean and affordable transportation options for all through vehicle replacement

As California focuses in on new, high-tech, best-in-class transportation strategies, it risks leaving behind an important subset of households and communities who could most benefit from the transition to a cleaner, cheaper, and more sustainable transportation future. Hundreds of thousands of low-income Californians, particularly those in rural parts of the state, live with some of the worst air pollution in the U.S. They also often drive relatively old, inefficient, unsafe, and highly polluting vehicles, and struggle to cover the costs of their basic transportation needs. For these Californians, getting into a relatively more efficient vehicle is more realistic than getting into a new electric vehicle, which is expensive, or onto public transit, which is often ineffective in serving rural and non-urban households.

The state has recognized this problem and attempted to address it by focusing on vehicle repair and retirement programs. However, by merely repairing and retiring vehicles and not replacing them with cleaner, more efficient ones, existing programs do not maximize long-term air benefits or lessen the financial burden these inefficient vehicles currently place on low-income Californians. To help address this issue, Senate Bill 459, signed by Governor Brown in September 2013, directs the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to rewrite the guidelines of California’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP). This program has been in place since 2010, and is designed to allow residents who own the highest-emitting vehicles in the state to retire and/or replace them.

In this report, we discuss the contribution made by these highly polluting vehicles to the state’s air quality problems; we also discuss the serious drag that driving these vehicles can have on household budgets. After outlining these problems, we discuss the state’s current policies aimed at promoting vehicle retirement and replacement and offer some recommendations for improving those programs.

California is already a leader in advanced and high-tech transportation and transit solutions. It is time we also became a leader in pragmatic solutions for a population that is sometimes left behind in these discussions: non-urban, low-income, car-dependent households. Bringing solutions to these communities will have a huge impact on our current air quality and family budgets; it will also widen the circle of Californians who play an active part in moving this state toward a cleaner, less oil-dependent future. 

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