BlueIndy broke ground in several areas. The program’s public-private partnership demonstrates that government and the private sector can identify a mutually beneficial arrangement that can expand electric mobility access. Early ridership data and the potential expansion of the program also provide evidence that consumer interest in electric mobility solutions is robust outside of primary EV markets. Two challenges addressed during the program’s early stages, the authorization of public funding and the siting of publicly available charging infrastructure, indicate cities should encourage greater stakeholder engagement and build a more robust case for the public benefit of a program.
A strong public-private partnership is needed to bring electric mobility to more people. The program was championed by Mayor Ballard whose team pulled together the key partners for vehicles and charging infrastructure with the backing of the city’s chief executive. The local electric utility (IPL) helped lead the way on infrastructure as it was interested in expanding its electricity retail market while Bolloré provided the vehicles to expand the market for its EV technologies and car sharing services. Although government stakeholders sometimes disagreed over the details, a broad consensus existed on the value of BlueIndy to the people in the metropolitan region of Indianapolis. Advocates of the program state that it benefits the public by reducing the environmental impacts of transportation and the cost of mobility for users. With that strong support, Bolloré overcame early public funding setbacks and committed a sizeable private investment to get the program off the ground.
Starting with the urban core and expanding outward could be a winning strategy. BlueIndy began operating in the urban core to demonstrate to city dwellers and visitors that an EV carshare program was a viable transportation option. The BlueIndy program gained traction in its first year by successfully attracting members and continuing to push forward to deploy additional stations. With its potential expansion to Hamilton county, BlueIndy may show how innovative mobility solutions do not have to be restricted to areas with high population density and can accommodate the needs of residents outside the city center.
Articulating the public value proposition of EVs, especially the benefits of transportation electrification to electricity ratepayers is an early imperative to attain broad public support. In April 2014, BlueIndy and IPL asked for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to approve $16 million to cover the cost of the program’s charging infrastructure, which would increase average electricity bills by 44 cents. Ratepayer advocates argued that the rate increase would disproportionately benefit Bolloré, claiming that not all citizens would benefit from or use the BlueIndy program.
The commission only partially approved IPL’s request and denied the cost recovery for $12.3 million installation of charging stations and kiosks for BlueIndy, approving only the investment in upgrades to distribution infrastructure. A study on the potential benefits of EV adoption could have helped make the case for the public investment. In California, for example, the electric utilities have successfully showed to their regulatory commission that transportation electrification can benefit all ratepayers, through the higher utilization of existing assets and a net economic benefit for the state.
Programs should strive to attain broad support for local public officials before launch. BlueIndy and a large city fleet electrification program were Mayor Ballard’s two key initiatives to reduce the city’s dependence on petroleum. The Indianapolis City Council claimed the Mayor’s office developed these programs without its consultation, culminating in a lawsuit by the Marion County Auditor against the city after it deposited $6 million in BlueIndy’s escrow account. The lawsuit claimed the Mayor’s office did not open a public bid for project-related construction and did not receive the budget appropriations necessary; the lawsuit was dropped in March 2016 after new Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett took office. The city’s fleet electrification project also complicated the Mayor’s messaging for BlueIndy. A 2016 audit revealed that, despite the program embodying the best interest of the city, the agreement with Vision Fleet for 425 vehicles posed a risk to the city due to the ineffective implementation of the program.
Greater engagement with the city council, and potentially other public officials, could have resulted in a smoother rollout of the program. As with any public program, all the relevant parts of government should have a voice in the process to create a robust, thoughtful program.
Early and frequent stakeholder engagement is necessary to build a stronger, more broadly supported program. During the regulatory proceeding for IPL, consumer groups stated that there was little consultation of the community and a lack of transparency surrounding the city’s negotiations with BlueIndy, resulting in charging station siting becoming a major point of contention. Critics say that BlueIndy stations occupy valuable parking spots and that the community was not consulted on siting. Now, a new agreement between the city and BlueIndy allows the city to relocate up to seven stations at the expense of BlueIndy if businesses are suffering financially because of them. Earlier consultation with local stakeholders would have likely prevented this issue.