Our March 25 MeetUp focused on three pioneer programs in shared/smart mobility that now are bearing fruit in our areas. There were some surprising insights provided by our three presenters that kicked off a lively discussion.
Did you know that the Twin Rivers Unified School District in North Sacramento is operating the largest fleet of all-electric school buses in the nation? Tim Shannon told us how all that happened and how it is going. There are 40 electric school buses in the fleet so far with more on order. The goal is to be at least 90% electric in the next few years. Because of widespread incentives and now the documented huge savings in operating costs from electric school buses plus the reduction in exposure of students to emissions, Tim thinks this is an idea that will spread quickly across the state and the nation. It has presented some tough challenges and interesting opportunities for Twin Rivers. The usual challenge for recharging a large bus fleet in one location is bringing in enough power to the site to top-up the batteries between the morning and afternoon runs. Twin Rivers was lucky because they had a high-capacity transmission line in their backyard and high-voltage transformer. Among the unexpected opportunities was the chance to use the buses sitting in the yard as a storage and balancing system for the utility. Since the buses are not in use at the exact times the utility wants to store and withdraw power, this turns out to be a good fit. Power is cheap in the late morning and early afternoon when all the solar installations on the grid are at their greatest output, just when the power is needed for recharging. Withdrawals from storage are most needed late in the day and into the night just when the buses are back in the lot, with the recharging then done overnight. With trends toward increasing the range of these buses (from 40 miles to 150 miiles), there is also emerging opportunities to think of this fleet as mobile power sources in emergency situations with enough capacity to provide hours of steady power.
Next, Steffani Charkiewicz from the Sacramento Metro Air Quality Management District talked about their Community Car Share program, now in its third phase. This is a pilot program demonstrating the viability of putting shared-use zero-emission passenger vehicles in underserved communities, with the hope that vendors will pick up the idea and spread it throughout the region. The program has been managed so far by ZipCar, already established and well-known in our area. Steffani said one of the surprising lessons from this pilot was the degree of reluctance from residents to using the cars. People were wary of a relatively unknown government agency doing this. Through enlisting known community organizations and non-profits, enough trusted “ambassadors” overcame the initial skepticism. Now the pilot has accumulated over 500,000 miles of use of the vehicles, and 40,000+ reservations being made. These programs and more are available through the Transit Incentive Card, worth checking out.
James Corless, Executive Director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), and staff person Adrienne Moretz discussed the smart mobility experiments being done through the Civic Lab initiative, now in its fourth year. Nine vendors were competitively selected to roll-out programs across the 6-county SACOG region. The projects included the popular Jump Bikes and e-scooters, on-demand transit mini-buses, last-mile options to cover the trips to and from transit hubs, and autonomous buses on the Sac State campus. These have become welcome additions to the mobility options available, and the Lab is looking to its next wave of funded projects.
All of these projects have made Sacramento one of the leaders in smart and shared mobility in the country. With these pilots come some interesting business opportunities for all you innovators. Better apps to use the vehicles. More creative use of vehicles. Added features at the emerging mobility hubs, like solar stands. Solar canopies in parking lots, especially for the school buses. Get engaged!
You can view a recording of the event below to get more of the details. The turnout for the event was very good, so we are sure to return to this topic at a future MeetUp.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.