By Mary Ann Showalter
Newswise — Hood River, Oregon, is a picturesque rural community with abundant pear, cherry, and apple orchards. The community also sits in the shadow of Mt. Hood, making it a popular jumping-off point for tourism. Each year, it draws thousands of visitors who enjoy windsurfing on the nearby Columbia River and hiking the surrounding mountain trails.
But, unlike large cities with extensive public transportation networks, residents and tourists alike in rural communities such as Hood River don’t have easy access to transportation solutions that take them from Point A to B. As a result, rural residents experience far less accessibility to public social activities and services—especially lower-income residents for whom purchasing an automobile may be cost prohibitive. Among the population, more than six percent of the town’s 8,000 people had an income below the poverty level in 2019, according to City-Data.com.
Now access to transportation will be made easier in Hood River through a new, first-of-its-kind electric vehicle (EV) carsharing program. This program is designed to position EVs at five strategic locations throughout Hood River and make them readily available through a reservation system.
A research team from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is lending a hand—providing analytics expertise to glean information and best practices about the economics and environmental impacts of EV carsharing programs that will inform similar programs in other rural areas.
CRuSE control for access to transportation
The three-year program, led by Portland, Oregon-based electric, smart, and shared mobility nonprofit Forth, is called the Clean Rural Shared Electric Mobility—or CRuSE—project.
The program has been launched with support from the Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) within the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. VTO, which oversees several projects related to energy-efficient mobility, is working to demonstrate that affordable and energy-efficient mobility solutions taking off in larger urban areas can also be successful in rural America—which covers a massive 97 percent of U.S. land but houses less than 20 percent of the nation’s population.
CRuSE will station five Honda Clarity EVs in the area—one near the waterfront for access in and around recreational activities and two at affordable housing sites that are underserved by existing public transportation. Two cars will also be placed on City of Hood River property to encourage use by city employees, fostering convenience and environmental sustainability in the city’s operations.
The cars can be reserved using the Envoy There mobile app, allowing payment by the hour. iPads will be made available for those who lack internet access or smart phones.
Putting the data pedal to the metal
PNNL is collaborating with Forth to determine CRuSE’s effectiveness and feasibility.
“We’re using our analytics expertise to evaluate the affordability and environmental gains from putting a sustainable, rural carsharing program like CRuSE in place,” said Arun Sathanur, a PNNL computer scientist who is leading the Laboratory’s effort in the program.
Initially, Sathanur and his team are designing a survey aimed at obtaining information from the Hood River users. The questions will touch on diverse topics such as how a user typically travels around town, how many trips they take per day, average miles traveled, and what tasks they perform—like grocery shopping or accessing medical care—that would spur them to use carsharing services.
After the survey is developed, the researchers will receive data from the vehicles and charging stations, as well as price data for analysis, to determine whether EV-carsharing programs are economically sustainable and result in quantifiable carbon savings. The analysis will culminate in a report that will guide DOE investments for future rural mobility programs.
“The data we obtain from this effort will help Forth design the most efficient EV transportation programs that will alleviate some of the stress residents and visitors in rural areas experience when they need to run a simple errand but don’t have the means for mobility,” said Sathanur.
CRuSE is also helping VTO meet its goal of fostering collaboration among Clean Cities coalitions, shared mobility partners, planning organizations, and local governments. Project partners involved besides the City of Hood River include the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition, Pacific Power, mobile app and electric carshare provider Envoy Technologies, American Honda, and several others.
According to Katie Wolf, PNNL’s project manager in the CRuSE program, “During the course of this project, there will be a continuous feedback process with these project partners to get it right for this current and future rural carsharing programs.”