Twenty-six years after the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority debuted one of the country’s first all-electric downtown shuttle services, Chattanooga will soon become one of the first cities in the nation with an electric vehicle ride share program.
Within the next couple of weeks, 20 Nissan Leafs will be stationed in various parking facilities in Chattanooga and Collegedale to provide drivers all-electric vehicles to rent by the hour through a smart phone app.
Backed by a $3 million grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority, CARTA contracted with a Los Angeles startup known as GreenCommuter to equip the Leafs to be rented by the hour via smart phone apps. CARTA also employed ChargePoint to install additional charging stations and EPB to add solar panels at the airport, in Collegedale and to generate clean power for the battery-powered vehicles.
Another partner in the program is a Chattanooga consultant, the Prova Group LLC, whose CEO and principal Philip Pugliese designed and deployed the city’s Bike Chattanooga bicycle-sharing program.
“The electric vehicle car share program will reduce air pollution and traffic congestion and offer a safe, environmentally friendly alternative to owning a car,” CARTA Executive Director Lisa Maragnano said during a ceremony at Hamilton Place Mall where one of the new charging stations has been installed. “The majority of the charging stations are located on a CARTA bus route, which will allow people to think twice about owning a car and lean more toward utilizing public transportation and the car share vehicle.”
Maragnano said the typical motorist spends nearly $10,000 a year buying, insuring and operating a car, and the new greencommuter ride sharing program could help many people limit their transportation spending. Fewer vehicles would, in turn, free up downtown parking spaces and reduce urban pollution, program backers say.
TVA is sponsoring the program to help entice more motorists to try driving electric vehicles, which could help the federal utility gain new business and could help level TVA’s load by recharging car batteries at low demand periods.
“Today is a day we find ourselves in the fast lane yet again,” Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. “Chattanooga is a place where innovation happened. We’re the first mid-sized city to have an Innovation District and now we’re the first city to launch an electric car ride sharing program.”
The electric car ride sharing program will use a membership model and was developed for Chattanooga by GreenCommuter founder Gustave Occhiuzzo. The entrepreneur initially developed GreenCommuter to provide electric-powered vans for ride-sharing by workers to and from work in Los Angeles, and he quickly realized the vehicles also would be available during the day and after hours and on weekends.
Occhiuzzo came to Chattanooga when CARTA solicited bids for the new TVA-funded electric vehicle ride sharing program.
GreenCommuter will make the new Nissan Leafs available for $9 an hour to members, who pay an initial registration fee of $25 and an annual membership of $50. Occhiuzzo said the membership fees will be used to also pay for some of the initial trips for the early adopters of the program and he said the rates for most people will be less expensive than the costs of owning your own vehicle.
“This is a proactive city and there is a lot of support with both a lot of charging stations and solar generation to ensure that that this is clean power,” Occhiuzzo said. “We’re finishing our beta testing and prepping the vehicles, but people can sign up for the service as of today.”
Users will be able to utilize GreenCommuter’s app to find a nearby rental electric car, use a Smartphone to unlock it and start the engine (no key is involved).
The business model for GreenCommuter envisions up to 45 persons signing up as member for each vehicle. The cars will be rented by the hour and by the day by both individuals and businesses and their presence throughout the region, combined with CARTA’s free downtown shuttle and citywide bus system, should allow commuters to give up their car ownership, if they choose.
TVA officials said CARTA’s electric car-sharing idea was a good fit for TVA’s $3 million Solar Assist Electric Vehicle Charging Program grant. Andrew Frye, a TVA power utilization engineer, said he hopes the program will expose thousands of drivers to electric cars and help more people realize the advantages of driving battery powered vehicles. Frye said the cost of starting the program in Chattanooga is only a fraction of the BlueIndiy electric vehicle ride-sharing service started in Indianapolis, Ind., at a $41 million initial cost.
From a pollution standpoint, Frye said the Nissan Leaf vehicles are equivalent right now to driving a car that gets 50 miles per gallon and by 2020 after TVA moves to greener generating sources it will equal driving a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon of gas.
“Through the research and work that TVA has been doing with electric vehicles back to the 1980s, we’ve learned that electric vehicles are very efficient and easy to drive and cost a third of the operating expense of a gas-powered vehicle,” Frye said. “But while we’ve learned a lot, we still have more to learn, including figuring out how best to get the general public to be more familiar with and to use electric vehicles. That’s why this program and the opportunity to touch so many people is so exciting and important to us.”
Maragnano said in addition to CARTA’s electric shuttle downtown and the new electric car ride sharing program, the bus service will take delivery in February of two new 35-foot electric-powered buses with inductive charging and CARTA has funding to buy three more similar buses.
“So we continue to move on in the charge for electric vehicles,” she said.