Chattanooga Goes Green with Zero-Emission Car Sharing

CARTA Deploys Its First 20 EVs

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Lisa Maragnano is executive director of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 11:45 am

The city of Chattanooga, Tenn., is home to many firsts when it comes to sustainable transportation.

From being one of the first cities in the nation to offer free rides on electric buses, to starting one of the first electric vehicle ride-share programs, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) is paving the way for innovative and cleaner transportation.

CARTA initiated the downtown electric shuttle system over 25 years ago and claims one of the largest fleets of electric buses in the United States. They also operate three public parking garages, the Chattanooga Parking Authority, and own and operate the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. In 2014, CARTA entered into a funding and partnership agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure and to create a new transportation alternative through an electric car-sharing system. TVA awarded CARTA a $3 million grant to get the project started.

Just like any large scale project, the first phase funded the system design, development, reporting, siting, construction, operation, and management of an electric vehicle charging system, with 20 locations in the Chattanooga area. Phase two of the project included the development and placement of an electric vehicle car-sharing system, which is operated from the new vehicle charging stations across the community. CARTA has now launched an integrated public Level 2 charging and electric vehicle car-share network. Consisting of 56 charging ports across 20 locations, the new system runs alongside the existing public transit system. The energy use that is required for the system is compensated by the installation of three new 80 kW solar power generators that are integrated into the local power grid. TVA is sponsoring the program to help entice more motorists to try driving electric vehicles. This could help the federal utility gain new business and help level TVA's load by recharging car batteries during low-demand periods.

The electric vehicle charging infrastructure was installed and is owned, operated, and maintained by CARTA. It is built upon the Chargepoint CT4000 Dual-port system and each unit is covered with a prepaid, 5-year maintenance and data plan to ensure continued performance and reliability. CARTA partners with the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority, Erlanger Health System, CHI Memorial Hospital, the University of Chattanooga Foundation, Southern Adventist University, CBL Properties, United Methodist Neighborhood Centers, Kinsey Probasco Hays, and the Chattanooga Theatre Center. With these partners, CARTA maintains lease agreements at no cost.

Green Commuter, a Los Angeles headquartered benefit corporation, was selected by CARTA to launch the state’s first all-electric public car-share system with the initial deployment of 20 Nissan LEAFs in Chattanooga, taking advantage of CARTA’s public charging network. The Nissan LEAFs serve the central business district, key employment and residential centers, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Southern Adventist University.

Service is available to qualified drivers 18 years and older, with special fleet packages available for corporate partners. Reservations and vehicle access are obtained through a mobile app available for both IOS and Android phones. In October, the system opened for public use, offering on-demand hourly and daily rentals. Green Commuter is responsible for daily operations, maintenance, marketing, and sponsorship of the system, and received compensation to subsidize the system launch and ensure continuity of operations through June 30, 2019. Another partner in the program is a Chattanooga consultant, the Prova Group LLC. The company’s CEO and principal, Philip Pugliese, designed and deployed the Bike Chattanooga bicycle-sharing program.

In addition to the Green Commuter application, the entire public charging network is visible through many online and mobile applications, including Chargepoint, Plugshare, and the Transit App. Green Commuter and CARTA are working to further integrate across these platforms for access and payment solutions. There is an initial application fee of $25 and an annual membership fee of $50 to be able to take advantage of the electric vehicles, with an hourly rate option of $9 per hour for members.

Consistent with the goals of the TVA mitigation projects, the system components contribute directly to the reduction of greenhouse gases and may also affect SO2, NOx and Hg. On top of the emissions decrease brought on by the electric transit system, the new electric vehicle car-share project reduces the need for everyone to have their own cars and lowers the amount of CO2 introduced into the environment. The total emissions reduction has equaled more than 530 tons of CO2 since the implementation of this program. CARTA was even nominated and won this year’s Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award in the category of Clean Air due to the emissions reduction and success of the project.

CARTA is committed to transporting people in an environmentally friendly way that protects air quality, agency officials said. Car-sharing offers numerous environmental and economic benefits to Chattanooga residents and employers, and promotes sustainable transportation and land use. When asked about the status of the finished project, CARTA’s executive director, Lisa Maragnano stated, “The electric vehicle car-sharing system is working as planned and is readily scalable, with potential for additional sites in the future. The project enables more people to take advantage of public transportation, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and provides the community a cheaper, more sustainable way to commute.”

Once members of the community realize the positive impacts brought about by the new system, they will take advantage of it more often, allowing for the project to update and become an even more vital part of Chattanooga, Maragnano said. Through the installation of distributed renewable generation, plug-in electric vehicles replacing conventional vehicles, and enabling shared vehicle solutions to offset single commuter vehicles, this project has created an environment to promote the adoption of clean energy technologies and produce sustainable emissions reductions.

CARTA was established in 1973 after purchasing the assets of Southern Coach Lines, which had operated the city's bus service since 1941. The transit agency's 11-member board of directors has since gained a reputation for aggressively pursuing sustainable solutions to public transportation. CARTA has been involved in numerous research projects including the testing of tires for minimizing rolling resistance, solar panels on the buses, gas turbines, alternative battery chemistries, inductive charging, hydrogen auxiliary power units and consulting for national and international government agencies interested in electric bus technology, according to the authority's web site.

Caleb Powell is an environmental specialist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Office of Sustainable Practices. He has a bachelor's degree in environmental sustainability and energy technology from Middle Tennessee State University.

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