How one southeastern city is connecting renewable energy, transit and electric cars

Guest Blog | November 2, 2016 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles

Last week, we published a blog on Chattanooga’s Empower Chattanooga program, a flagship project for local sustainability, non-profit green spaces, and low-income energy efficiency solutions. But, Chattanooga is also leading the way with some innovative new transportation initiatives.

On October 24, as part of a hearing in Ringgold, Georgia (near the GA/TN border) of the Georgia Alternative Fuels Study Committee, which is looking at incentives and other opportunities to support alternative fuel infrastructure in Georgia, a consultant for the Chattanooga Regional Transit Authority (CARTA) came to share information about Chattanooga’s efforts to improve the city’s transportation network and become a more connected, smart city.

With persistent air quality problems in the late 1980s and 1990s, Chattanooga sought alternatives to reduce emissions and congestion. Rail and other initiatives were evaluated, but they opted to go electric. Their first electric bus was dedicated in 1992.

CARTA electric bus. Photo courtesy of Philip Pugliese, Prova Group, CARTA

CARTA is now on their second generation of electric buses running 19 bus routes, with fourteen all-electric buses serving nearly one million people annually. They also run an incline railway and have had a bike sharing program since 2012. Funding is generated through parking garage revenues. These types of initiatives are just now taking off in other cities around the Southeast and the country. For example, the City of Atlanta started their first bike program just this summer.

With $3 million in funding from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), GreenCommuter has launched an electric car sharing program in the city. They are deploying 20 Nissan LEAFs – all-electric battery electric vehicles (EV) and installing 20 Level 2 EV charging stations (60 ports). The program also includes the installation of an 50 kilowatt (kW) solar array at CARTA’s main facility as well as two other sites, the Chattanooga Airport (10 kW) and Southern Adventist University (20 kW), that will compensate for energy used by the EV fleet.

Thirty percent of Chattanoogans don’t drive a car and more and more people are wanting public transportation and supporting new technology, so Chattanooga is looking comprehensively at how to support these interests — connecting public transportation, with the car and bike sharing access locations, alternative fuels, and connected and autonomous vehicles. For the car-sharing program, reservations for the Nissan LEAFs and bikes can be done via mobile phones using their reservation app.

Taking the city’s efforts a step further, GreenCommuter is also working with Tesla on a vanpool program, which will utilize the all-electric Tesla X. They have applied for grant funding in hopes of supporting and expanding the pilot program. CARTA will also be adding to its electric bus fleet in 2017. They will be acquiring three new BYD buses with inductive charging, the latest in electric buses. Other cities throughout the U.S. are currently testing out this new technology.

With these initiatives and goals “to promote economic development, safer and connected neighborhoods, active and healthier citizens, and cleaner and greener communities,” Chattanooga is transforming the city and setting a positive example for other mid-size cities throughout the Southeast.

Guest Blog
My Profile