One thing not talked about much in the electric vehicle space is demographics. I recently had the opportunity to talk to four 20-year-olds for for my podcast, “Stu’s EV Universe,” to discuss their take on the future of transportation. My guests were Eden, Dylan, Kelly, and Spencer. Two of them don’t drive at all, one has a little driving experience but mostly takes public transportation, and the fourth drives a Toyota Prius.
All were fans of the idea of public transportation, but have had sometimes less-than-exceptional experiences with it.
“Even though our busing system isn’t great, you can still go most places,” says Kelly. “It is all centralized via downtown, so if you want to go anywhere, you have to go downtown first. That’s a bit frustrating. It makes it so that every bus ride, no matter how far it is, is usually a minimum of an hour.”
“I didn’t ride public transportation until I went to UK (the University of Kentucky) for college,” says Dylan. “When I’m on UK’s campus, I pretty much exclusively use public transportation.”
Dylan is a wheelchair user and has difficulty using the bus system because the bus driver needs to help with the wheelchair. Dylan notes that the newer electric buses not only are cleaner, but have systems in place that offer much more autonomy with getting situated on the bus.
“I can definitely smell the buses when I’m walking past,” says Eden. “I can smell the exhaust and that is not great for my asthma. It makes it much harder to breathe.”
Spencer goes to school in Arkansas in a small town where public transportation isn’t available. And there is no public transportation in his hometown either, so driving offers him the ability to get places.
“At 14 I was pushing to get my permit,” says Spencer. “I wanted to drive as soon as I was legally able to.” He noted that everything was too far to walk and a car promised greater freedom.
Something that caught me by surprise is that the majority of the group wasn’t very interested in car ownership. Spencer, who owns a Prius, is interested in one day owning a fully electric vehicle.
There was some concern expressed with the safety of gas and diesel cars. And we discussed how much safer electric cars can be since they don’t carry combustible fuel; there are far fewer car fires with electric vehicles.
The young people also said the current cost of electric vehicles was a barrier to car ownership for them and their peers.
“I do think that for myself and my wider friend group, electric vehicles as a whole are very cool … big thumbs up,” said Dylan. “We support whatever can possibly help reduce the amount of pollution we are putting out in this world. But also, I know whenever me and my friends see a Tesla specifically out on the road, we are like, ‘oh.’ Because in our minds, electric cars and Teslas are seen as two different things almost, because a person buying a Tesla is a statement, whereas a person buying an electric car is a completely different statement. An electric car (says) ‘I want to help the environment,’ and a Tesla is like ‘look at me, I’m very rich and I love Elon Musk.’”
According to 2019 information from The Fuels Institute, the top demographic of EV owners are middle-aged white men earning more than $100,000 annually with a college degree or higher. And they have at least one other vehicle in their household.
Kelly says some of her relatives and friends get caught up in “car culture” and she has some relatives out in rural areas of Kentucky who might want an EV. But less infrastructure in the area makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to own an EV.
The podcast also covers car modifications on internal combustion vehicles, light electric vehicles and e-bikes, the pressure these young people feel from the impending climate crisis, and the role that individuals and large corporations have in helping our world change for the better.
This was a compelling conversation with some unexpected twists and turns — some very smart and thoughtful young adults speaking their truth. Have a listen to the podcast for more. There are some very interesting voices that come through.
See our full electric bike archives for more.
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