The Cost of Clean Air: Motivation for Minimizing Motor Emissions

Clean Air Vehicle Sticker web
A Clean Air Vehicle decal shows a vehicle has met specified emissions standards. Photo by Alec MacDonald.

Over the past five years, drivers on Bay Area roadways may have noticed more and more clean air vehicle decals, visible indicators of the growth in cars and trucks that use cleaner fuels and produce lower emissions. Incentives for drivers to join this trend include rebates, fuel costs, access to special highway lanes, and environmental benefits.

Lee Lawrence, a Moraga resident who owns both a full hybrid and a plug-in hybrid, is familiar with the incentives — and disincentives. She’s constantly aware of range limits, as well as locations of nearby charging stations. She’s learned that “when I’m chatting with other users at charging stations, ‘range anxiety’ is the most frequent topic that comes up.”

“Vehicle sales are up, but charging stations are lagging,” according to Karen Schkolnick, head of Strategic Incentives for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Although the region has more than 2,500 stations now in place, she asserted that “we need to make a lot more stations available to make everyone feel they can participate in the transition.” Her agency seeks to encourage electric vehicle use as part of its mission to control regional air pollution. As she explained, “Because we don’t regulate mobile emissions sources, we need to incentivize change instead.”

Since July 2015, the Air District has awarded grants to build more than 200 charging stations; more grants will be made before the end of the fiscal year in June. Funded projects range from a pair of dual-port medium-fast charging stations at California State University East Bay, to 98 dual-port stations at a Santa Clara County business park. One Air District demonstration program entitled “Charge!” is funding 92 publicly available charging stations — including 28 in neighborhoods designated under the agency’s CARE (Community Air Risk Evaluation) program as being vulnerable to greater health impacts from higher air pollution levels. The companion program “Charge Fast!” will fund direct-current fast-charge ports in CARE areas and fill gaps in the fast-charge network.

The Air District has been awarding charging station grants through its Transportation Fund for Clean Air. Broadly speaking, the TFCA helps pay for efforts to reduce on-road vehicle emissions — everything from walking, biking, and transit projects, to purchasing cleaner vehicles for government fleets. The revenue for the fund comes from a $4 surcharge on Bay Area vehicle licenses, a fee approved by the state legislature in 1991 that generates roughly $22 million a year.

In addition to charging stations, the Air District has solicited TFCA applications for shuttle and rideshare services, electronic bike lockers, hydrogen fueling stations, and plug-in electric vehicle rebates. The plug-in electric vehicle rebates, available to public agencies, also cover smaller “neighborhood vehicles” and electric motorcycles. Motorcycle awards have already gone to police departments in Pittsburg and Colma. “The number of motorcycles is small, but we’re developing a program to scrap more motorcycles,” said Air District Supervising Staff Specialist Chengfeng Wang. “There are no regulations to control motorcycle emissions, and we’re finding they are higher than we had thought.”

Other projects that will be funded this year include light-duty and heavy-duty zero-emission or partial-zero-emission vehicles for public agencies. There is a June 22 deadline to apply for up to $500,000 for heavy-duty vehicles. Schkolnick noted that earlier grants have been effective. “We now have 70,000 light-duty clean vehicles, which is 1.5 percent of the overall fleet,” she said.

In the last half of 2015, 33 TFCA-eligible projects totaling over $5 million were evaluated and awarded. Schkolnick observed that “Air District funds are going a long way to fast-track the transition over to zero-emission vehicle technology in the region.” The next necessary step is better range for electric vehicles, but as she pointed out, “The manufacturers are working on it. Between Air District investments and the manufacturers, the Bay Area is in great shape to move forward.”

Looking ahead, the region should see more progress on these issues overall, as the Air District recently allocated $90 million for the next fiscal year to reduce mobile source air pollution. In addition to TFCA grants, this money will primarily be available through the agency’s Carl Moyer Program, the Mobile Source Incentive Fund, and the Goods Movement Program.

To learn more about the Air District’s grant programs, visit or call (415) 749-4994.

Leslie Stewart covers air quality and energy for the Monitor.