Transportation access has long been a problem for California’s rural farming communities. In recent years, a successful model has emerged in the form of green rideshare — electric vehicles that take low-income residents where they need to go.
Unfortunately, these programs are often at risk of collapse once they start. When they go away, it can feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath these marginalized communities.
Take Cantua Creek in the San Joaquin Valley, for example. In 2019, the heavily Latino farming community became the beneficiary of the Valley ZEV Mobility Project. A fleet of electric cars were made available to low-income communities across Fresno, Merced and Kern counties, as the Sacramento Bee explains.
Through the program, community members could volunteer to drive through an app set up by a private ridesharing company called Green Commuter. Rides cost passengers between $5 and $10, depending on distance.
At a total $1.9 million, the project was funded with $749,800 from California Air Resources Board (CARB) using revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program, which sells carbon pollution permits to industrial greenhouse gas emitters. Green Commuter contributed $1.1 million, and the Valley Air District chipped in the rest.
The ‘Van y Vienen,’ program was a wild success, residents say. Then its life was cut short in 2020, four months after its birth, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly three years later, none of the players involved take full responsibility for the project’s demise.
CARB said the Valley Air District couldn’t supplement state funds to sustain it, and the Air District points to Green Commuter’s business model as the core problem. Green Commuter said in a statement it was ready to redeploy the vehicles but, as a subcontractor, deferred to the Air District’s decision to end the program.
Van y Vienen’s demise has upset many in the community. According to Sam Gregor, who manages mobility programs at CARB, their disappointment reinforces the need for long-term plans whenever state grants are put toward a program like this.
Huron Mayor Rey León started a highly successful green rideshare program called Green Raiteros four years ago, which is still going strong. He expressed his sympathy for the people of Cantua Creek. He says they would have been better off if the Van y Vienen project had been served by a non-profit rather than a private company.
“Green Raiteros was something born from us and for us, not a parachuting program that will dissolve when there’s no more money,” León said. “I’ve seen my mother’s struggle, my father was a bracero farm worker for 57 years. It’s unfortunate that they set up this program the way they did, because it’s a terrible way of serving the people.”