Electric Vehicles in Rural Communities
Those who live in or near large cities enjoy ready access to public and private transportation, where bus, rail, taxi and ride share options are plentiful. But for smaller communities, getting around can be a real challenge. Well, we recently visited one Texas town that has found a smart, clean solution for shrinking this big problem.
Bastrop, Texas, is located about 30 miles southeast of Austin. It covers nine square miles and is home to around 9000 people. It’s a pleasant place to live or visit, on the edge of Texas hill country with the Colorado river passing nearby; a thriving main street downtown and a relaxed vibe all around.
Typical of small towns in the area, there are no city buses or subways here. Carts, the capital area rural transportation system, offers low-cost van rides for folks to get around within the city limits, or to connect with regional transit options.
And since December of 2019, Bastrop has collaborated with the lone star clean fuels alliance and e-cabs of North America to provide a cost-free and emissions-free micro-transit ride service using GEM low-speed battery electric vehicles. The US Department of Energy funded this two-year pilot project to explore how well these low-speed EV’s could meet a rural community’s first- and last-mile transit needs.
The GEMs carry 5 passengers and can legally travel on roads with speed limits up to 45 miles per hour, though the cabs themselves top out at 25. They can sustain 3 to 4 hours of continuous duty per charge.
E-cabs operates on evenings and weekends, and covers a limited area surrounding downtown Bastrop, but there are no pre-determined routes. It’s all on-demand and on the rider’s schedule, and these things stay busy! They also offer a para-transport option with a foldaway accessibility ramp.
The system allows riders to request electric cab service through a phone call or a mobile app. The e-cab driver is alerted immediately, and pickup time is typically fifteen minutes or less.
Bastrop mayor Connie Schroeder is a frequent rider, and she knows a thing or two about riding in style!
MAYOR CONNIE SCHROEDER: It doesn’t matter if you’re in a small town or a big town, you need to be able to get around. Everybody needs to go to the post office, go to a doctor, maybe get something to eat, and that last mile can be extremely hard. It can be hard if you don’t have a vehicle, it can be hard if you’re elderly.
JOHN DAVIS: Frequently taking the place of larger conventional vehicles, the system’s electric vehicles translate into lower per-trip fuel consumption and emissions. Bastrop’s e-cabs are re-charged using electricity from the Texas grid, which relies on one of the country’s highest proportions of renewable energy sources.
Nationwide, adoption of electric vehicles has lagged in rural areas when compared to urban markets. The hope is that the electric shuttles can increase comfort and familiarity with EV technology in the community, and could lead to greater interest in electric vehicle ownership, too.
CHRIS NIELSEN: This is a good idea because it’s incredibly inexpensive to operate, it’s efficient, the people like it. We have a lot of traction, and we’ve been adopted by the community here. And we’re a part of it now, and this has happened everywhere that we’ve deployed.
JOHN DAVIS: The e-cabs are bringing new mobility options to the citizens of Bastrop, and showing that even a small town can set a big example for clean transportation.
MAYOR CONNIE SCHROEDER: They take care of the environment, they’re convenient, they’re easy, and there isn’t anything better than waving to your friends when you’re in a free e-cab ride.