(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 479: Charging Up Transportation

April 17, 2024

This week we’re joined by Gabe Klein, Executive Director of the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation. We chat about the Joint Office’s white paper focused on best practices and solutions for electric vehicle charging entitled: Community Charging: Emerging Multifamily, Curbside, and Multimodal Practices.

White Paper Link

The EV Charging Infrastructure Playbook – Link

To listen to this episode, visit Streetsblog USA or find it in our hosting archive.

Below is a full unedited AI generated transcript of the episode:

Jeff Wood (40s):
Well, Gabe Klein, welcome back to the Talking Headways podcast,

Gabe Klein (1m 21s):
Jeff Wood. Thanks for having me. It’s been a while and it’s so nice to be back.

Jeff Wood (1m 25s):
Yeah, it’s good to see you again. We had you on almost 10 years ago for your book Startup City, but folks might not be familiar with you, so maybe if you could get, tell us a little bit about yourself, that’d be great.

Gabe Klein (1m 35s):
Sure, yeah, I guess 10 years is a long time. Like when you’re coming outta school and going to work in the DOT, you’re like, who’s this gay guy? So yeah, let’s see about me. I have been in this space for, gosh, I don’t know, 25 years. I started out in the bike business as a kid and so I was enamored with all things wheels and my dad and I used bikes as, you know, basic transportation in Connecticut where I grew up. And so that was sort of my acclimation to the bike and to getting around in something other than a car. My dad was also really into cars and he even had a school bus.

Gabe Klein (2m 15s):
We even got around the school bus sometimes, but that’s probably for another podcast. As I got older and I got more interested in business, I started working in the bike business after school and then got into the car sharing space with Robin Chase at Zipcar. And I got into electric vehicles by getting into electric food trucks. And I started an electric food truck company back in 2006, seven timeframe. And then lo and behold, the mayor of DC asked me to run the DC Department of Transportation. He and Dan, who is a great friend, did that, put in lots of bike lanes, started building a street car, expanding the circulator bus, really doing some interesting things with public space.

Gabe Klein (2m 57s):
And then went with Rah Emanuel to Chicago after my mayor lost the election and did the same thing there, but on a much larger scale and faster. Wrote a book called Startup City, did some interviews with you and Mark Gordon at one point, which was really fun. I was on the Streetsblog board until I started working for the federal government because you know, you can’t be on cool boards when you work for the LL Goman, but you know, I have always had a warm place in my heart for this podcast, the whole Streetsblog family and for like just cities and you know, making sure that all the people that are moving to cities and it’s just increasing, increasing worldwide, but particularly in the United States, that they have as many options as possible to get around and that we don’t bankrupt people between real estate and transportation.

Gabe Klein (3m 42s):
And it’s getting really expensive to live in a lot of our cities. So that’s me in a, in a nutshell.

Jeff Wood (3m 47s):
And then what are you doing now?

Gabe Klein (3m 49s):
Oh yeah, that’s right. That that’s why you, you’re having me on. So I’m the executive director. I’m the executive director of the United States Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, which is a really fun little startup in the federal government, although it’s gotten pretty big. We have a $300 million operating budget. We have about 43 people now. It’s a startup within government. It is here to bridge the gap with electrification and sustainable fuels between the Department of Transportation, department of Energy, bring together these incredible resources that we have, but they often don’t talk to each other, which is sort of a microcosm of states and cities as well. Or maybe they’re a microcosm where you don’t have a lot of interaction between the state energy office and the DOT.

Gabe Klein (4m 32s):
And increasingly when you look at the business world, for instance, these are becoming one business. When you look at GM Energy or you look at Tesla, right, and sort of where the world is going or the rise of electric bikes. You know, we sold over a million electric bikes in the US in 2022. And so energy and mobility and transportation are overlapping ways they haven’t before. And we wanna make sure in this transition that we’re creating, you know, president Biden committed to 500,000 electric chargers by 2030 and the goal is to clean the air and also to create jobs again in this country for people, right?

Gabe Klein (5m 14s):
And to do all of this in an equitable way, in a sustainable way. But while we’re doing it, we have this opportunity to reinvent mobility as we know it, I think in cities. And that’s what’s also very exciting.

Jeff Wood (5m 25s):
How are you feeling about cities at this point in time, this juncture and strange world that we live in at the moment?

Gabe Klein (5m 31s):
God, it is a strange world. I mean, I’ll say that. Well, I love cities always have, I love the quirks and the imperfections in cities. I think that’s what makes them magical. I think we went through a period, I was just talking to some close friends the other night where we were infatuating with smart cities and trying to create the perfect city. And there’s nothing wrong with striving towards perfection, but sometimes the imperfection that makes it interesting, right? And makes it also maybe affordable. And so I think we need to be careful about what we want. We want low crime rates, we want great opportunities for people, we want equitable cities, but we don’t necessarily want completely tech enabled cities, right?

Gabe Klein (6m 14s):
We don’t want, you know, perfectly crystal clean cities because they aren’t made for everybody. We want accessible cities and part of accessibility means mobility and upward mobility and they’re very connected. And to do that, we can’t ask everybody to make a capital investment in their own transportation. Whether they’re taking transit every day or they’re riding their bike or they’re in a bike sharing program, or they share their car with their neighbor, whatever it is, we are very focused on true equity and equitable outcomes. And that means also providing access to people versus just ownership. And I actually spoke to the National Governor’s Association at National League of Cities this morning and the one thing that they clapped for was that particularly all the mayors in the room, this recognition that true equity is gonna take a little bit more work.

Jeff Wood (7m 7s):
Yeah, the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, is this a similar effort to previous kind of coordinated efforts like the DOT HUD EPA partnership or is it something different? What’s its role and how did this office specifically come about? I’m curious about that.

Gabe Klein (7m 22s):
Well, without knowing all the details, like I’m friends with Shelly Petit and, and I know some of the history with other efforts, I will say that this is the first time that the federal government has ever tried to span two different agencies with one office. And beyond that we also support EPA within DOT, we support FTA and Federal Highways. So we do a lot. And our deputy director pointed out today as we were providing a briefing that we don’t just like provide technical assistance and support and help, we actually formulate policy and programs working with our partners to make sure that these programs are executable. We are working to make sure that the outcomes that the administration has committed to, that we’re formulating the programs to actually meet them.

Gabe Klein (8m 8s):
And we’re trying to provide as much flexibility to state and local governments to do what they need to do in a context sensitive way.

Jeff Wood (8m 16s):
Yeah, well, when I was thinking about what we should talk about, my mind went so many different directions in terms of like charging infrastructure, funding mechanisms, vehicle types. But I guess I should ask you what the basic organizing principle is because you know, you all put out the white paper, but I’m just curious, like you were connecting to all these places that you were talking about previously, but like what is the specific focus and how are you doing so far on getting to the places where you want to go?

Gabe Klein (8m 39s):
Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s, it’s timely because we support almost $20 billion in electric vehicle charging sustainable fuels, FTA, you know, transit low, no program buses, electric school buses. So we support a lot and we work every day to make sure that we’re impacting the outcomes, right. And the president set a goal of 500,000 chargers by 2030 and that’s definitely like a north star for us. But obviously that’s one thing. And along the way there’s a lot of other things that we can do. And so we are working to really support states, communities, big cities, small cities, tribal nations, transit agencies, so our, you know, users of services.

Gabe Klein (9m 27s):
So our stakeholders are just growing and growing and growing. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve had to staff up so much. And bringing people like Linda Bailey who ran NACTO, Deb Schrier from Lyft, Kevin George Miller from ChargePoint, who’s in New York. Like we have people all over the country to execute on this vision. And I think it’s one thing to just get chargers in the ground, but to do it in a thoughtful way so that you’re doing integrated Multimodal planning like in an urbanized area and you’re giving people the technical assistance but also the freedom and time to do that, that you’re doing webinars and providing best practices in terms of what communities are doing or what states are doing that you’re helping foster the relationship between like states and cities, which is what I was working on this morning with National League of Cities and National Governors Association and that we’re truly creating a more sustainable and equitable future.

Gabe Klein (10m 21s):
And so I think we’re doing really well. We knew that the private money would be hitting first ’cause it’s already in motion and that you had to do all this planning, we had to set minimum standards. There’s a lot of pre-work that had to be done. And so, you know, now we’re starting to really see like DC fast charging stations go in the ground. And I think the next, what you’re gonna see is more level two chargers going in, particularly in urbanized areas, but it just, you know, it takes a little bit of time for the federal money to flow. But the good news is you have also local money, you’ve got a lot of private money flowing into this space. And like you look at the New York City pilot, right, with flow with pole based chargers and it’s been like so successful.

Gabe Klein (11m 7s):
Those types of things make me really excited for the future. Like I think they expected 15% utilization on those chargers and they got over 70% utilization. So like the demand is, it’s really there and the bulk of the charging that’s gonna happen out there is gonna be in metropolitan areas, urbanized areas. And it’s gonna be level two charging.

Jeff Wood (11m 30s):
There’s all this handwriting in the press that I see anyways from scouring articles from my newsletter about whether or not we’re going too fast or too slow on electric vehicles. And I’m wondering what kind of the outlook now is now that you see these chargers going in, now that you see the results of of years of planning, what’s the outlook for transportation electrification at the moment?

Gabe Klein (11m 48s):
I think it’s very positive actually. Like we had a record year for EV sales last year, like I said, over a mil, well the million E-bikes was 20 22, 20 23. I don’t, I haven’t even seen the numbers. So there were more e-bikes sold than cars in 22 in 23, 1 0.4 plus million cars. And so like that was a almost 60% increase, right? So we’re seeing huge increases. We added like 35,000 charging stations last year in the United States. Public charging stations went from like 1 35 to almost one 70. So like all the metrics are great. I think some of it is like you’ve got a, a media landscape that’s changing pretty dramatically and like we’ll do an interview and a great article will come out, but the headline would be terrible.

Gabe Klein (12m 37s):
And I’ll

Jeff Wood (12m 38s):
Be like, what? Yeah,

Gabe Klein (12m 39s):
There was an article in CNN, it was like maybe a month ago and I actually took screenshots of the article an hour apart. It was the same article was really good. This guy, I think Pierre that did it. And one was like, you know why EVs are so successful, right? And evidently that didn’t get enough clicks. And then the next one was like, why EVs are such an unmitigated disaster. I mean like they were just throwing stuff at the wall. Same article, same, same article. So I think, you know, there’s some of that going on. And then I think anytime you’re going through change, there’s always skeptics. There’s always people that think, ah, we’re not gonna change. You know, we’re always gonna be using the flip phone.

Gabe Klein (13m 21s):
You know, we’re never gonna go to a smartphone And look, sometimes there’s hiccups and bumps along the way, but you always end up pretty much going to the smartphone. You know, it’s like people don’t generally go backwards when they get something that’s cleaner, faster, easier, cheaper.

Jeff Wood (13m 38s):
I just got back from China, I was there for a month visiting family and I was really impressed by the number of electric vehicles on the streets In larger cities, all the buses were electric and Jew high and Xen, the cars all had green license plates if they were electric and other colors, if they weren’t. So you could actually tell kind of which ones were electric. You didn’t, I mean, I didn’t know all the brands, obviously there’s tons of brands over there, but I could tell whether they’re electric or not. It was just really impressive. Of course they have different subsidy circumstances and whatnot, but it kind of gives me hope that we’ll actually get there because we do have this issue where a third of transportation emissions in the United States do come from the transportation sector. And so I feel like, you know, they’re moving forward, we’re moving forward. I feel like I feel good about that. I don’t know how you feel.

Gabe Klein (14m 16s):
Oh yeah. And I was asked this morning like, you know, can we go this fast? I was like, can we afford not to? You know, like the cost from not acting is so much higher. Whether you’re talking about dollars and cents or whether you’re talking about the human cost, particularly from an equity standpoint in terms of who gets impact. Like we, we have to do this and the fact is we should have started a lot sooner, but we are where we are and you know, this is the America that I grew up in back in the day. I know that we can do anything that we set our mind to. And so I don’t buy into this, oh I don’t think we can do it this fast. I just, I don’t buy it. I know we can. And I know that once you have an electric vehicle, whether it’s an electric bike or car or scooter, you’re like, what was I doing like this?

Gabe Klein (15m 0s):
This is it. Like I’m not going backwards. We don’t go backwards. And I also know that Americans love choices and, and at the end of the day, what’re doing is, and I say we like collectively, you know, industry, you know the OEMs, the federal, state and local governments, the clean energy companies, like we’re moving things forward progress and we’re charting our own future here in this country and with the president’s leadership. Like we’re really reinventing manufacturing in the United States. And you can’t underestimate the importance of that and doing it all at once. Yeah, it’s a lot. But that’s the only way to do it. Like there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way.

Gabe Klein (15m 42s):
Right? And we’re doing it the right way.

Jeff Wood (15m 45s):
Let’s talk about charging. It’s different from fueling in that 80% of it happens at home, but it also means that there are many folks that are left can be left out of that. The white paper you all released in February, Community, Charging, Emerging, Multifamily Curbside and Multimodal Practices focuses specifically on that 31% of households that are Multifamily. Why did you choose to highlight that aspect specifically in this, in this white paper?

Gabe Klein (16m 7s):
I mean there’s a whole bunch of reasons. One is because that one third of the country is just as important as everybody else. It’s also the trend. You know, housing is less affordable. There’s less single occupancy houses being built or single family homes as they call them. And so multi-unit in many ways is the way of the future. There’s also a tremendous amount of multi-unit being built right now to meet the demand, right? And so Mayor Giles, who’s in our EV working group was with him the other day, mayor Mesa. He was saying like, look like we’re building all of this housing in Mesa and we still haven’t changed our zoning to require more than four EV chargers in every building, no matter how many units we have to change that.

Gabe Klein (16m 51s):
And I thought that was a great point. Like what are the things that we can change and shape now in urban areas with multi-unit, right? That will have a big impact. And by the way, save money and give people options. Well that’s one right there. Governments can streamline permitting for chargers. They can allow more peer-to-peer charging. There’s a lot of things that can happen. And so what we’re trying to do is highlight best practices and then also like with our funding opportunities in the Joint office and, and we put one out and awarded most of it last year and then we are working on another one right now. We’re really trying to see innovation, right? And we’re trying to maybe take a little bit more risk with smaller dollars so that cities and companies can learn and then when they’re going to scale with tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, they know whether something works or not, right?

Gabe Klein (17m 45s):
And they’ve embedded workforce development in their programs and equity and they’ve made sure that they’re looking at it from a Multimodal standpoint, right? And I think that all of these things are absolutely key to our success.

Jeff Wood (17m 59s):
What are some of the ways it can be daunting to get charging infrastructure for people that don’t live in homes with garages? ’cause it feels like a lot of the report was kind of focused on, you know, some of the ways that it’s tough. You mentioned codes, I mean the ICC just rejected making the building code easier to put electrification stuff into new housing and things like that. So what are some of the barriers?

Gabe Klein (18m 17s):
Well you just mentioned one,

Jeff Wood (18m 19s):

Gabe Klein (18m 20s):
You know, I was just talking to a friend who moved into a condo and it’s like, it’s an old building and there’s questions about whether there’s adequate power. There is I think, but then you have to go through the condo board and it hasn’t been done before. So some of this is just newness, right? And nobody’s done it in your building or in your area. And so there’s a whole learning curve. The other is that there’s, you know, hundreds and hundreds of utilities around the country. So there’s not necessarily a uniform way that utilities deal with this. And so, you know, a lot of what we’re trying to do is bridge a lot of these gaps and provide these benchmarks best practices so that, you know, Pepco here in in DC can learn from Del Marva in Maryland ’cause they’re doing something exceptional that will change people’s lives for the better and make it easier.

Gabe Klein (19m 15s):
We awarded like in our funding opportunity to a number of cities and it’s electric to you know, test out this peer-to-peer behind the meter solution. You know, we’re testing batteries co-located with chargers so that maybe you don’t need to run a new power. You can use the existing power and use a battery to like top it off. So there’s a lot of experimentation happening and we’re actually soon gonna be heading overseas to you know, learn from some of our compatriots that may be a little bit ahead of us in terms of public Charging and Curbside Charging. And I think there’s a huge opportunity there. And Deb Schrier who worked a lot on the Community Charging project that you’re talking about is also working on our FOAs and working on Curbside along with a number of other people in our office because we’re seeing like from the New York experience, they can work really well, the uptake can be really high and people that don’t have single family homes or can’t get a charger into their multi-unit building quickly, they generally can use the curb.

Gabe Klein (20m 19s):
And then once you’re lighting up the curb for a charger, what else can you do at the same time?

Jeff Wood (20m 23s):
I’m curious about the curb too because there’s always gonna be this fight for street space between you know, bike lanes, e-bike charging, shared bikes as you put in in both DC and Chicago. I think there’s a lot of folks that are frustrated that were already seeding that space to cars for Curbside chargers and things like that. So are there ways we can prepare for the desired future of maybe not having so much space dedicated to cars, especially in these areas that are already dense and already focused on sustainable Transportation. Whether that’s active transportation like walking, biking or transit or new mobility like you know, scooters or whatever it may be.

Gabe Klein (20m 55s):
I’m a big believer that Optum people have like knee-jerk reactions and they say, oh if you have this, you can’t have this. You know it, it’s a very binary discussion. And then what happens is people get their backup and they go back to I’m a driver versus I’m a cyclist versus I’m a pedestrian, I’m a trans user and I’m a big believer in creating win win-wins. I remember when we were told in DC that taxi stands had to go away, we had to get rid a taxi stands because on the major thoroughfares they were causing conflicts with the buses and this and that. And I came up with a radical crazy idea of moving them off the main corridor to the side street, Worked fine. We had a double parking problem in DC where all these UPS trucks and back then it wasn’t even Amazon, it was a, you know, DHL supplier, Cisco double parked all the time.

Gabe Klein (21m 45s):
Well of course you wanna blame them. Well guess what? We talked to them and they said, well the problem is your loading zones are too small, they’re big enough for a car. We’re driving trucks. What we really need is to have two trucks in the loading zone. So we had to like double to quadruple the size of each loading zone. And then that problem pretty much evaporated, right? So we need better communication, we need to figure out what the needs are and then we need to figure out how we do all of it or as much of it as possible with some level of prioritization. And within the city that’s up to the folks in the city, right? It’s not to us at the federal level Now I’m thinking like as a DOT

Jeff Wood (22m 20s):
Chief. Yeah.

Gabe Klein (22m 21s):
Yeah. And you know, my belief is you can have bike lanes, you can have Curbside charging, you can also light up bike share streeties and, and I actually worked with New York City before, before I took this job with my old company City Fi that I had. And you know, definitely in that process I figured out that there’s a lot of opportunity, like once you’re running power to the curb, you can just stub out for everything that you’re doing. ’cause the cost, like if the feds are gonna pick up 80% of the cost of lighting up a DC fast charger on a block face, well use that to stub out for you know, 10 level two chargers, use that to stub out for the bike share, use that for the street ery, whatever it is that you’re gonna need in the future.

Gabe Klein (23m 2s):
Don’t just run for that one charger. Right? And so that integrated planning is really, really important I think for cities.

Jeff Wood (23m 11s):
Yeah, you all shared a an example of that and I think it was Vancouver and the normal transportation stuff was there, but they’re a big film production town too, so you can run the power for whatever film production stuff that they need when they’re making movies. So like I think that’s really interesting too. It’s not just about the transportation but running power to run a city. Totally.

Gabe Klein (23m 27s):
Right? Like that’s why they call it a utility. It is a utility and Transportation is a utility right now. Transportation can be fun and exhilarating or it can be sort of boring, but it is at its basic function, utilitarian just like the public space. It needs to function to move people on a sidewalk and you know, safely and all that. But it can also be beautiful. And so I think as we’re designing this future, what else can we improve as we’re spending all of this money to electrify the propulsion systems in our transportation?

Jeff Wood (24m 3s):
I’ve been really interested in this idea generally, and I’m wondering partially about the future of oil companies and things like that and gas stations. But like what happens when like a Transit agency or a public utility that’s owned by the city starts taking over all this Charging opportunities and instead of, you know, using the profits for something else, maybe they put it into the transit system or maybe they use it for this other thing. So I’m wondering what like the opportunities are with this new infrastructure, these new ideas, you know, we’re powering cars and other vehicles but we also have this new opportunity to kind of change the landscape of how we use the value that’s created from that for other things.

Gabe Klein (24m 39s):
Absolutely. And you know, we’ve been working actually on a study on operating models. What is the business model for EV charging? What is it likely to become? What are the different options for it? And you know, there are companies out there that are coupling it with advertising. There are companies that are more reliant on government contracts, there are companies that have integrated business models. And so I think that’s fascinating and it reminds me a bit of when we started out with bike sharing in DC and we went with one model and then when I launched it in Chicago with our team, we changed it a little bit and we migrated the marketing and advertising over to the private side and we said let’s split the profits or the losses, right?

Gabe Klein (25m 20s):
And so there’s, there’s different ways that this can roll out. And as we’ve talked to our friends in some other countries, in cities in the Netherlands, they’re viewing it as a profit center, which I can tell you is not the way most American cities are thinking about electric charging. And that’s why it’s so important to meet with people from around the world and to get different perspectives and to the point that we were just making to each other a few minutes ago. I mean we’re talking about running electricity fundamentally, right? And then we’re talking about there’s gonna be vehicles that use it, but there’s an opportunity for every vehicle that is utilizing electricity and storing it in these large battery packs, right?

Gabe Klein (26m 1s):
Whether it be a fleet of Amazon trucks or buses or school buses or individual vehicles on the street. If they have the capability for managed charging right to send power back to the grid to put it back into a battery on the Curbside, then instead of thinking about electric vehicle charging and this is the narrative that you’ll hear out there as being a, you know, a huge load on the system, it could actually be the solution to the load on the system. You know, it can be taking power off p, storing it in the vehicles, storing it at the curb and then sending it back at peak when it’s needed at lower cost. So I’m very excited about the bigger picture And, what those operating models look like in the future.

Gabe Klein (26m 46s):
And we’re just setting the stage now. But again, it’s important to be thinking about those things as you’re planning even for your Curbside,

Jeff Wood (26m 54s):
You mentioned New York and how their public chargers have been very well used. They also have this other problem I I read about the other day where 20% of the time the space is taken up by gas powered cars. So I’m wondering about priority and how that works in terms of trying to make sure that we have the access that we need for the Chargers to the electric vehicles rather than just being a parking space.

Gabe Klein (27m 14s):
Yeah, this hearkens back to my Zipcar days where we got parking spaces in some cities here in DC notably in 83 spaces on the street and people would park their regular cars in there. But when the final went, I think it was like $250 there was a sign up and then we painted the actual space, said Zipcar in it. Amazingly it dropped by like 80%. It’s the old 80 20 rule. And so, you know, there are little tactical things you can do. There’s fines, there’s cameras, there’s automated enforcement. I mean there’s a lot of things that can be done. I think that that’s all manageable Also, this is new like once people get used to it, they’re like oh that’s an EV charging space, I get it.

Gabe Klein (27m 55s):
Unless I’m plugged into charge I shouldn’t be using it. I think a lot of those problems will go away just as they did with car sharing. But I do think that the experience in New York and the utilization and when you consider like the maybe accidental ice blocking of the spaces to still have 70% utilization of the chargers. I mean it’s pretty phenomenal. The numbers I’ve seen show you can hit profitability at definitely at 30% and in some cases at 15%. So if you’re operating at 70%, that means you can have a profitable venture while also doing a service to society.

Jeff Wood (28m 34s):
Sounds familiar to the discussion that you all had about peer-to-peer charging and bring your own cord and those types of things where individual people in houses on the streets might just set up a charger in front of their house and then charge people to use it and creating this situation where you have, it feels like a little bit wild west at the moment, but maybe you have opportunities for people to make money off their, off their solar energy or something along those lines.

Gabe Klein (28m 58s):
Absolutely. Just like they do with Airbnb in some cases, right? You know, anything that’s capital intensive or sort of hard to put in but readily exists already and you just have to make a regulatory change or get somebody to opt into it. Those are attractive models I think of course those regulatory hurdles can be major and they don’t always work. But we’re very excited to see if cities say, you know what? This is an interesting complement, supplement, whatever in neighborhoods to get more Curbside charging them.

Jeff Wood (29m 32s):
Another thing that’s been in the news as well is battery fires from e-bikes and some of the, the risk that’s, it seems like it’s going down but that’s still there. How is that addressed in terms of thinking about this charging infrastructure and thinking about the future of what all this is together?

Gabe Klein (29m 47s):
Well there’s been a lot of press on battery fires in cars, right? And, and I’ll just say many more fires and fossil fuel powered vehicles than there are in EVs even on a percentage basis. The bike thing, it’s really interesting because it’s super specific to New York. It’s not that you don’t see it in other areas but not really so much. And I think there’s a couple things happening. I think people started using electric bikes in New York maybe a little bit earlier. There’s a lot of like delivery electric bike and a lot of other cities more more by scooter car and you have like these hodgepodge like bikes, right? That are like basically scavenge parts to make a bike.

Gabe Klein (30m 28s):
And I think one of the problems that we have, and this is a little bit unscientific, okay this is my anecdotal take, having been to New York a lot and seeing what’s going on, read a lot of articles and talked to some experts at DOE, you know you have batteries that are not UL certified batteries. They’re very cheap batteries and they’re not meant to charge at faster rates. You charge at a faster rate at a higher current and you know, you get a a fire basically because there’s no protection in that battery to shut it off to stop it from charging. And so I think we have a bit of a quality control problem too. I, you know, I wouldn’t hesitate to put my high quality electric bike in my house and charge it but if it’s a very inexpensive bike the battery’s not UL certified.

Gabe Klein (31m 15s):
Yeah, there are potential problems.

Jeff Wood (31m 18s):
Yeah, I feel like the bad press that shows up because people are so focused on it, I feel like it shows up also in in worries about you know, these code issues and things like that because I know that for example here in San Francisco, if you’re putting up solar on your roof and you want to get a battery, if you have a battery that’s over a certain size or you want to have you know, power for two days instead of just one day you have to get all the approvals and things through the fire department and and you have to go through another avenue not just pg e to get all those things done. And so it makes it, you know, now that the public utilities commission and the state has made it so that you really have to have batteries ’cause they’re not gonna pay you out for the energy you’re producing as much as they used to. Now you’re gonna have to get batteries. But now it becomes an an onerous task to try to get solar on your roof because of all these things in part because I think that people are still worried about some of those issues that might be getting smaller and might be being fixed at the moment but they’re still in the imagination of folks that are writing codes or the fire departments or whoever else might be, you know, having some say in the process.

Gabe Klein (32m 14s):
Yeah, I was just talking to the climate mayor’s group today, Clinton initiative and talking about, you know, what can cities do more at the local level around zoning to require EV chargers and new buildings around permitting to streamline it. And sometimes it’s demystifying things, clarifying myth busting and sometimes there are real problems like the inexpensive batteries you know, in New York that need to be addressed. And so separating wheat from the chaff there and then holding up the examples of cities that are doing things really well is important so that other cities can mimic. And that’s something we’re in the process of right now and actually today we just announced this afternoon are EV infrastructure Playbook, which is specifically meant for communities.

Gabe Klein (33m 2s):
There’s eight modules, the first four are planning, engagement, citing and funding. And we’re gonna have four more modules that’ll be a little more complex. One will focus on utility coordination. But you know, this is where we’re trying to make as frictionless as possible to get the information that you need. And we hope that cities and fire departments and all of the groups that are in charge of making, whether it’s solar or batteries or EV chargers to get them implemented more quickly will be helpful and work to do that.

Jeff Wood (33m 37s):
What’s been the most surprising thing to you about working in this space?

Gabe Klein (33m 41s):
I think, well what’s very interesting is that Transportation and energy people don’t really know each other very well with a few exceptions. You know, I was sort of a, a known entity and the transportation space particularly in cities, but I realized like I didn’t really know that many energy people. And I’ll tell you that the technology is fascinating. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from solar for what we’re doing in terms of a Playbook and we actually take from solar all the time in terms of some of the challenges even that you just outlined and some of the opportunities. And I think that like we need to make this more formulaic and so as, as much as possible, I’ve been trying lately to take my experiences from transportation and apply them more actively and then learn on the energy side as much as I can, as fast as I can and take some of those examples because otherwise it, it can feel a little overwhelming like there’s so much to do.

Gabe Klein (34m 37s):
But if you put it in perspective of like, well we’ve done this before with bike sharing or parking meters, right? Or pay by phone applications or you know, and, and then the other thing I’ve learned is like how important contracting is and procurement and like making sure that whether it’s the federal government getting grant agreements out and things of that nature or whether it’s state and locals working well together, we’ve put out model procurement language. You know, I think that stuff is easily overlooked but very important to give. Particularly like cities, the feeling they can move a little bit faster, they’re not completely on their own. So those are some of the things that I’ve been struck by.

Jeff Wood (35m 17s):
What’s the importance of like standardization too? I mean there it feels like that’s a little bit of a wild west out there in terms of what’s been happening in terms of like charging infrastructure and I know that people are going on to whatever the Tesla standard is, et cetera, for charging. I’m curious about that too because each of these cities is gonna have their own ideas and thoughts about what they want to have out of a charging system and maybe there’s something that already exists or maybe it’s something that needs to happen in terms of standardizing or making sure that everybody’s on the same page.

Gabe Klein (35m 46s):
Yep. Well one of the things that we did in the first year or so of the office was work closely with D-O-T-D-O-E Federal Highways on what the minimum standard should be for public Charging with a primary focus on the nevi program and the highway Charging. But it really filters down to all public charging and like how should people be able to access it from a payment standpoint. You know, what’s the minimum number of ports that should be available when somebody pulls up to a station? And so there’s a lot of minimum standards now in place for anything Title 23 funded through Federal Highways And. what we hope is that these minimum standards, which a lot of thought went into, not that they can’t be tweaked as we learn more, but that those will also be readily adopted for the privately funded chargers or many of them.

Gabe Klein (36m 36s):
So that as much as possible the public has a pretty seamless, frictionless and mostly consistent experience, right? Then when they pull up to a charger, it works. There’s a 97% uptime requirement. If there’s a problem, there’s redundancy and they get another one that it’ll have a CCS plug, which is what’s predominant in the us but there’s the flexibility to put in a Tesla style plug, a ax plug that it has just been made into an open standard. It’ll be fully certified in June and then you’ll probably see many more of those go out. And you also see many more vehicles go out with that is most of the OEMs have coalesced around that form factor.

Gabe Klein (37m 17s):
We worked with SAE, actually the standards organization to make that an open standard. So yeah, there’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes on minimum standards, but then we also get that like there’s a measure of this that’s context sensitive. You know, just ’cause New York’s having huge success and wants to expand their on street program doesn’t mean that’ll necessarily work in Dallas. I mean it might, but the land use is different, right? Or maybe it’ll work downtown but not in the suburban neighborhoods. So that’s why like there’s a set of federal standards in terms of quality, right? In terms of like expectations that a consumer would have. But then, you know, states have a certain amount of control and then cities have control, whether it’s through the CFI grants or through money sub-grant through the states to do what they think is best.

Jeff Wood (38m 4s):
I got two more questions for you. Context is interesting. I’ve been paying attention to this kind of tangentially through like, you know, paying attention to Transportation news as I do. But I’m interested in the differences between like local Charging stations and like long distance ones as well. I mean it seems like the Flying Jays of the world, the Buckys of the world are gonna be really excited about the charging infrastructure potential of keeping people maybe for a couple of minutes coming into the store or whatever. But then for like gas station type chargers in cities, the folks there are worried that it’s gonna take too long and they’re not gonna get enough people through to make a profit. And so that might disappear some of the, and maybe they don’t need to if it’s all on street charging. But I’m always interested in this kind of context of what the Charging future looks like on Streets at gas stations at these long distance kind of travel centers.

Jeff Wood (38m 48s):
It’s an interesting kind of change in what we think the future might look like for travel. And I find that fascinating.

Gabe Klein (38m 55s):
Well it it, it is true and I think we are a little bit victim to trying to fit the EV charging experience into our gas station experience. And it’s really very different because as we know, cars sit more than 95% of the time typically. Well that’s the ideal time to charge ’em so people don’t have home gas stations, right? But in this case, many people are gonna have home charging whether it’s on the street in front of their building, in their building or at their house, at their single family home. So that changes the game completely. Like I’ve had an electric vehicle now for six, seven years and I’ve probably been to a fast charger maybe 10 times, right?

Gabe Klein (39m 42s):
I pretty much charge at home with level two. But even when I’m out, if I can charge at a level two charger, which is low cost, my car is sitting like at the Department of Energy, if I do drive, like today I, I I rode my bike, but if I do drive I can just let it trickle charge on there all day. In fact, some people use level one charging successfully, which is just a one 10 outlet ’cause they only use the car a few times a week. So I think the paradigm is totally different once you get an electric car for most people. And I do think that it’s important to recognize that over 80% of charging in this country is gonna be level one or level two charging. The DC fast charger is basically there as the gas station replacement or for the long road trip.

Gabe Klein (40m 25s):
And Americans love the great American road trip, right? To be able to go coast to coast and all that. And they’re gonna be able to do it because of the DC fast chargers at the Flying Jays, you know, or the love or whatever, Bucky’s and the Charging’s getting faster and faster. So we have a minimum standard of 150 kilowatts, but a lot of the companies are now putting out 350 kilowatts. There’s megawatt charging coming for trucks. And so there are charges being advertised now that can get you back up to a hundred percent in five minutes from like 20%. So, you know, long term the gas station experience may not be that much different than it is today with electric charging.

Gabe Klein (41m 10s):
The other thing is, as somebody that has used fast charging on like I 95 when I’m going to New York from DC you know, I need to stop, I need to grab a bite, I want a coffee, I wanna use the restroom and I’m topping up. You know, I’m not going from zero, I’m going from like 200 to 300 or one 50 to two 50. And so you top up and you drive another 200 miles and you stop and use the bathroom and you top up. So it’s not that people are pulling into DC fast chargers typically with no with nothing and then going to 250. And even if they are, they can do that pretty quickly, but it’s generally about 20% that they’re charging 20, 30%.

Jeff Wood (41m 53s):
So last one, you know, I also feel in a lot of ways a car is still a car and it comes with all the, the built-in emissions and pollution issues that come from car oriented land use and particulates from tires and those types of things. I’m wondering how we should reconcile kind of the need for electric cars with some of car cultures more negative impacts, but also thinking about focusing on all those other electric vehicles that matter to e-bikes, scooters, and things like that.

Gabe Klein (42m 15s):
We do get caught up in this idea of I am this type of transportation person, I am this type of transportation user. And I’ll tell you, I found once they had a couple kids, I needed a car again, but then my second car was a cargo bike, right? And then I had an electric folding bike when I was on my own. And so as you go through the different stages of life, you may need different types of transportation, but hopefully you can minimize the number of cars you need and that you, you know, need to actually buy. And then everything you have has the option to be electric and to give it more range, you know, like an electric bike is just amazing in terms of giving me range as I get older to go wherever I need to go.

Gabe Klein (42m 59s):
So I think that’s the important thing. Like we’re focused on cleaning up the transportation system regardless of what you choose to do. But we think this is gonna open up many more mobility options for people as well. I mean, one thing I’ll tell you is every mayor I talk to, whether it’s with the climate mayors nationally cities or US conference mayors, they always say, what about Multimodal? I want to do this in a Multimodal way. And it’s so great because when I took over D-C-D-O-T at the beginning 2009, I mean almost no mayors were saying that. So there’s been a sea change out there. That’s wonderful. The other thing is we have to walk and chew gum. Like we gotta, we gotta do it all. Like there are people that are stuck with land use that does not afford them the ability to walk or ride a bike or even take transits, people in transit deserts.

Gabe Klein (43m 48s):
And so we’ve gotta recognize that we have an America that is a lot of different contexts, right? And so in the cities and urbanized areas that, and, and there’s a lot of suburbs that are becoming urbanized areas with TOD like here in the DC region we’ve got like 16 different to, you know, big TODs happening. This is an opportunity for them to reinvent themselves around sustainable mobility and electrify, right? for the far-flung suburb that just wants electric Charging to move people over from ice to electric can do that too. We need to do everything because we gotta clean the air and get rid of the emissions. The CO2 levels are just too high.

Gabe Klein (44m 29s):
We’re going the wrong direction. And so, so whether you’re primarily a cyclist or a transit user or whatever, you should be supporting the idea of more electric vehicles on the road. But I’m a big believer that in areas that do have the land use that is appropriate or are moving in that direction or want to move in that direction, this is an opportunity to do all of that. At the same time, when you’re tearing up the street, put in the bike lane, put the chargers around the corner if you want, on a local street, put in the electric bike share station that people have been asking for. Electrify your bus fleet. If you can do it, do it all.

Gabe Klein (45m 8s):
There’s plenty of funding if you have the wherewithal and you do the integrated planning to make it happen. And the Joint office is here to support that with things like this Playbook. But also we have, you know, over 50 consultants. We’ve got 43 people on staff, we’ve got access to all the national labs. You can come to us, go to our website, ask for technical assistance. We commit to get back to you within 48 hours. Not as fast as Domino’s Pizza, but within 48 hours.

Jeff Wood (45m 37s):
Sounds pretty good still.

Gabe Klein (45m 38s):
And yeah, and, and if we don’t have an answer, we’ll get the answer. We’ll figure out who within government we know it’s okay. We’ll figure out who can help. So we have that commitment. That’s why the Joint office is here.

Jeff Wood (45m 48s):
Awesome. The white paper is entitled Community. Charging Emerging, Multifamily Curbside and Multimodal Practices. I hope folks can check that out. I’ll put it in the link to the show notes. We’ll put the link to the, in the show notes to the charging infrastructure, Playbook as well. And Gabe, we really appreciate your time. Thanks for coming on the show.

Gabe Klein (46m 5s):
Thanks for having me, Jeff.

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast


…the first thing I read every morning is the newsletter to see what’s been out there. It’s great to have an aggregator that pulls everything together so nicely.

Joe Cortright, City Observatory

I think that the email newsletter that you do every morning is the best one that I get, and I get a lot of them.

Mary Newsom, The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Really is the best daily urban newsletter out there.

Eric Jaffe, Editorial Director Sidewalk Labs


To Receive The Overhead Wire in Your Inbox Daily

Premium Daily Subscription

The Premium Daily Subscription is our most information packed offering, chock full of over 30 pieces of news every single day. Included are popular features such as the quote of the day and the most read article from the previous day. Also included is our weekly roundup for times when you are strapped for time but need to know what’s going on.

Premium Weekly Subscription

The Premium Weekly Subscription is for professionals constantly under a time crunch. We take the most read items from the week before and share them with subscribers along with more in depth analysis of a single popular topic.

Learn More and Subscribe

Video of the Day

Friends of The Overhead Wire

Back To Top

Welcome to The Overhead Wire

What Can We Help You Find?

Try Our Newsletter For Free