Reducing Energy Use

The City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County created the public-private Electric Bus Initiative as part of their overall local sustainability strategy. Since 1992, 18 electric buses have gone into service on two downtown shuttle routes, a local nonprofit organization has been launched to promote research and provide information on electric transit, and a company has formed to manufacture electric buses. The benefits of this partnership include reduced congestion on downtown streets, reduced air emissions, and new jobs.

In 1989, Chattanooga was known as one of the most polluted cities in America. Less than 10 years later, the region has rid itself of this reputation and is now making a complete turnaround. In a relatively short period of time, Chattanooga and Hamilton County are reversing a history of environmental neglect by coming together as one community to create a long-term vision for the region.

Infusing sustainability concepts and practices into all aspects of local planning and public services, the collaboration has not only cleaned up the region, but it has become a model for the growing movement toward sustainability. The partnership's larger efforts cover open space preservation, waste refuse and recycling, watershed management, reclamation of polluted industrial sites for clean manufacturing, and creative transportation strategies.

One of the best-known results of this comprehensive partnership is the Electric Bus Initiative. The City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, working in conjunction with the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), the private sector, and citizens, have designed and developed a cutting-edge electric-bus public transportation system. The regional transit authority is now gradually replacing all of its diesel buses with the new emissions-free models. Three new satellite parking areas on the outskirts of town encourage the use of public transportation and provide revenue for a free shuttle bus service. Now a world leader in electric transit, Chattanooga/Hamilton County is selling its buses to other communities around the world, boosting the local economy and sharing the benefits of vastly improved public transportation and air quality.

A Sustaining Vision

The Chattanooga/Hamilton County Electric Bus Initiative grew out of the need for a transportation system that would curb the growth of downtown parking lots and create a more profitable and sustainable use of the land. The need for a revamped, environmentally friendly transportation system was underscored at two well-attended community brainstorming sessions -- Vision 2000 and Revision 2000. Sponsored by Chattanooga and Hamilton County, these sessions were conducted to foster partnerships between the public and private sectors and to bring citizens directly into the visioning process for their community's future. A fundamental concept to each of the city/county partnership's initiatives is that progress and quality of life depend on communication and participation from all of the region's citizens.

With community support, city and county officials charged CARTA to explore the use of electric transit and to develop a plan for the new system. It soon became evident that existing electric transit technology would not meet the needs identified by the community and CARTA's follow-up assessment. Instead of waiting for the technology to advance, CARTA created a local nonprofit called the Electric Transit Vehicle Institute (ETVI). Established in 1991, ETVI's purpose is to promote the design, production, and use of battery-powered electric transit vehicles.

CARTA currently operates 18 electric buses on the two downtown shuttle routes. These two routes connect the three main districts of Chattanooga's long, narrow downtown area. Shuttle users can park at any of the CARTA-owned and operated parking garages at either end of the downtown area, or at the three lots on the outskirts of town.

Not coincidentally, electric buses make stops at the city's new aquarium and movie theater, two additions to downtown Chattanooga that are expected to attract residents and tourists alike and spur continued economic development.

Every bag of popcorn bought in the new seven-screen cinema supports the Electric Bus Initiative. Opened in December 1996, the new movie theater is the first built in downtown in nearly 50 years. It is also part of an "intercept parking facility" that opened earlier in the year, designed to shift commuters and tourists from their cars to zero-emission electric buses at the shuttle terminal that shares the ground floor with the theater. Shuttle operations are supported by the theater's rent, which is partly based on profits.

Local Benefits, International Significance

Participating organizations, along with the Tennessee Valley Authority's Electric Vehicle Test Facility, comprise an innovative public-private collaboration that has significantly advanced electric transit vehicle systems. The program's "Living Laboratory" brings participants together to develop ETVs and share their discoveries worldwide.

This technology has proven to be an effective way to move people around downtown Chattanooga. In 1997, the electric buses will carry nearly a million people on buses that operate sixteen hours a day, every day, at five-minute intervals. The benefits of electric buses include a quiet ride, no need for tune-ups, reduced wear on roadways and brakes, no exhaust smell, lower operating costs, decreased dependence on foreign oil, a low floor design that offers an alternative to expensive floor lifts for persons with disabilities, and environmentally friendly transportation.

The Chattanooga/Hamilton County Electric Bus Initiative and downtown shuttle system together have redefined the state of the art in electric transit, established a new local industry with an international consumer base, sparked development, created new jobs, and transformed downtown transportation.

For further information, contact:
John Powell
Electric Transit Vehicle Institute

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352

Copyright 1998, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.