Electric cars offer ‘guilt-free driving’ and aid the climate. So why doesn’t Pennsylvania have more?

When Ilya Knizhnik installed a car charging station on his West Philadelphia street in 2016, his family was the only one on the block planning to use an electric vehicle.

But curious neighbors soon converted to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Now, about five households share the charger, he said. Two nearby blocks also have charging stations.

“It’s one of the best options to promote electric cars, because people see it,” said Knizhnik, a 36-year-old IT manager who drives a fully electric Tesla Model 3. “It’s people putting in chargers for the neighbors and others to share.… It’s very much a sense of community.”

Knizhnik is one of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have switched to electric cars for the environmental and financial benefits. It costs his family about six or seven dollars in electricity to drive their car 300 miles, he said, and they aren’t spewing carbon emissions from a tailpipe.

Over the last decade, as the threat of climate change has sharpened, hybrid and all-electric cars have become cheaper, their batteries have become longer-lasting, public charging stations have become more common, and consumer purchases of them have increased. Federal and state incentives — Pennsylvania offers up to $1,500 in rebates to such car buyers — also help.

Still, both in national comparisons and by its own admission, the state lags when it comes to the number of electric vehicles on its roads.

With about 7,700 electric cars registered in 2018, according to the Department of Transportation, Pennsylvania is behind New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. California leads the nation by far, with nearly 180,000 registered electric vehicles — the state has about 23 times more cars than Pennsylvania, though its population is just over three times as large.

The trend may be even more stark in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the most populous corner of the state. Here, about 5,000 of 2.4 million passenger vehicles on the region’s roads were plug-in, electric, or hybrid as of November 2017, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which has studied electric vehicle use.

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