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Electric Car-Share Program Coming Soon to Rural Oregon

The small town of Hood River, Ore., has decided that it will participate in a new pilot project that will launch a plug-in electric car-share program, which is a relatively unusual thing for rural jurisdictions.

Hood River, Ore. will soon take part in an electric vehicle car-share program, where EVs will be placed around town, easily rented for minutes or hours via an app.

The project, known as the Clean Rural Shared Electric Mobility Project (CRuSE), is a collective effort by the U.S. Department of Energy; Hood River; Envoy, an electric vehicle car-share platform; Hood River Columbia Area Transit; and Port of Hood River and Forth, an Oregon-based nonprofit advocating for “clean, electric and shared mobility.”

“I believe that if we’re going to clean up the transportation sector, then it has to start everywhere. We can’t rely on early adopters anymore,” said Kelly Yearick, program manager at Forth. “And I think rural communities have just as much, if not more, to benefit from electric transportation."

The plug-in electric cars will be managed and operated by Envoy, which will locate them strategically around town, targeting areas like multi-family affordable housing, where residents may not have ready and available access to cars.

Part of the goal here is to provide access to transportation for residents who otherwise might not have it.

“We’re really hopeful that this will provide an opportunity for families living in affordable housing units in Hood River to have access to transportation, and therefore really access to social mobility that maybe they didn’t have before,” Yearick said.

Costs for the car-share have not been set, but Forth officials are lobbying for the service to be used by the affordable housing community to get set at a below-market rate, making it more accessible for lower-income residents.

“All of this is to say that the demonstration is a pilot project. And we’ll be collecting data throughout,” said Yearick. “We’re partnering with the Pacific Northwest National Lab to select and analyze data throughout the project.”

The project also aims to introduce electric vehicle technology to drivers who may not have a lot of experience with the cars, opening up the possibility of switching to electric-powered mobility on a permanant basis.

A similar electric car-sharing program was launched in Sacramento, Calif., last year, this one also accessed via the Envoy platform. The project placed electric Volkswagen e-Golf cars in apartment communities, some of them low-income.

The project in Hood River is also expected to serve the significant tourist population there, along with serving some of the transportation needs of city workers on official business.

“We’re hoping to leverage some of those tourists visiting to utilize the vehicles, and create that higher level of utilization that a car-share really needs to be financially sustainable,” said Yearwick.

Oregon’s electric car market share is one of the highest in the country, with EVs accounting for 2.4 percent of new car sales in 2017, according to the 2018 Zero Emissions Vehicle State Policy Rankings by the Electrification Coalition, an organization that aims to advance the use of electric vehicles to help reduce the country’s dependence on oil. Only California has a higher market share of EVs, at 5 percent.

“It’s vital that rural communities have access to and share in the benefits of electric transportation,” said Cory Scott, director of customer solutions at Pacific Power, in a statement. “This grant brings together a broad collation of partners that are all aligned around broadening access to electric vehicles and serving underrepresented populations.”

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