Electric Road Trip

The electric car share for one town's farmworkers

HURON, Calif. — To catch a Lyft from Huron, population 7,288, to a hospital in Fresno will run you about $50. That's far beyond the means of most people in this tiny farm town, one of the poorest in California.

One entrepreneurial official has a captivating solution: Build a homegrown Latino Lyft, sans the smart phone, using only electric cars.

This week, we visited Huron because many consider electric vehicles a toy for the rich, but this program flips that on its head. Its name is Green Raiteros.

What is a raitero?

Rey León, mayor of Huron, leapt up the stairs onto the second floor of his nonprofit, which runs the program. "It's Spanglish," he said. A raitero is someone with a car who agrees to give someone else a ride — a raite, in Spanish. The driver might charge a passenger more than the rider can afford. Or the driver might just say, "Give me 20 bucks and buy me lunch," explained Leon. "It's an old practice, and it happened long before Uber."

This program, by contrast, is free for the riders.

Two full-time drivers, Veronica and Ruben, use a new Chevy Bolt or a used BMW i3 to chauffeur their riders. The car purchases were funded by a charity of Google's former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. If their own schedules fill up, drivers can ask one of a dozen other volunteers to help out and get reimbursed at the federal rate for mileage. When the day is over, they charge at one of the 10 Level 2 stations located on the premises.

Leon said 22 chargers are sited around town. That includes 12 more Level 2 chargers in three apartment complexes. Few of those, according to people who work there, are used very often.

All of the chargers are the fruit of corporate scandal. NRG Energy, accused of price fixing during California's 2000-01 power shortage, paid for the first 10 at the Green Raiteros' hub, through its subsidiary EVgo. The rest were installed by Electrify America, a subsidiary created to dispense money from the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal settlement.

That might raise questions about how easily Green Raiteros could be replicated, despite León's optimism. His vision is to expand networks of rural electric car shares across the state. "There's Hurons all over California," he said.

On our way out of town, we pulled over and ventured into an almond grove. Huron is located in one of the nation's highest-revenue agricultural counties, but 43% of its Latino population lives in poverty.

"We're the ones who feed the nation. This," said León, holding his hands out to indicate the region, "are the results of what you call environmental racism."

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
Load more posts