- Author: Laurel Schwartz
- Date: October 10, 2023
After years of high asthma rates and chronically toxic air, Antelope Valley, CA electrified their entire bus fleet, the first in North America to do so.
Fresno County Rural Transit Agency (FCRTA) and partner organizations are providing innovative public transportation access to residents in areas not served by scheduled routes or ride sharing companies like Lyft and Uber.
Biola, a community of about 1400 people 16 miles West of the City of Fresno, is in the fertile San Juaquin Valley, where about 25% of food eaten in the US is grown. Small towns like this dot Fresno and nearby Merced, Kings and Tulare Counties. Their residents are farm workers and seasonal laborers, who work on the land around them. For the first time, they have access to affordable EV ride share programs through new community transportation initiatives.
While there are a few small grocery stores in the 0.6 square mile town of Biola, most services are a 25-minute drive away, through farmland. “The local courts, specialist doctors, parole officers, they all are in downtown Fresno,” said Moses Stites, general manager of the Fresno County Rural Transit Association (FCRTA). Like many San Juaquin Valley small towns, about 40% of Biola’s residents live below the poverty line. And because of its small population, Biola is not serviced by scheduled bus routes, except for school busses.
In addition to transportation hurdles, the San Juaquin Valley’s air quality is often lower than the healthy standards outlined by EPA. Though sparsely populated, the region’s topography—a valley basin with the San Francisco Bay Area east of surrounding mountains—leads to some of the worst air pollution in California.
To combat these challenges, the San Juaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (APCD) partners with municipalities and local organizations to establish EV ride sharing programs. In 2021, CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order to eliminate internal combustion passenger vehicles by 2035. In support of this initiative, the Air Pollution Control District and partners are installing Level 2 EV chargers in rural and urban communities in the region.
Stites and the APCD team worked with an outside consultancy to choose a community to launch a pilot affordable EV ridesharing service. Biola was chosen after assessing need and access to services. APCD worked with the FCRTA to install a Level 2 charger and automatic gate in Biola’s community center parking lot, a central location where it charges 18 Chevy Bolt EVs. By placing the Level 2 charger in central Biola, it ensures that round-trip journeys that begin in town won’t require a deadheading journey to charge at another location. The vehicles were purchased by FCRTA through the Measure C, a half-cent sales tax that Fresno County voters renewed in Nov., 2022, and will expire in 2057.
Now known as the REV-UP (Rural Electric Vehicle Utilization Program), Biola residents can sign up for round-trip rides to any destination in the area, round trip. They are driven by a retired Biola resident, who works on Stites’s team. The drivers are trained and insured through MV Transportation, a private subcontractor that works with municipalities, private companies, and non profits across the US. Stites looks forward to expanding the program and is hiring additional drivers, who will be paid through Fresno County Rural Transit Agency, Inspiration Transportation, the Central Valley Community Foundation and Beneficial State Bank.
Thanks to an anonymous $12,000 donation from the local League of Women Voters, rides are further subsidized beyond FCRTA’s support, costing $5 for the general public, $2.50 for seniors, disabled, veterans, and children (ADA attendants ride free). Trips to secondary stops, such as a pharmacy after a doctor’s appointment, are included at no additional cost. Passengers can sign up a minimum of 24 hours in advance online, or by phone, in English or Spanish.
Green Raiteros in Huron, near Biola, is non-profit organization started by Rey León, now the town’s mayor. Raiteros, a Spanglish term, refers to migrant workers who informally give or receive rides. With a median household income of $25,000, transportation has historically been a challenge in this small town, and locals have often relied on neighbors for rides.
Green Raiteros has a fleet of nine EVs housed in a former diesel truck garage, powered by 30 Level 2 charging stations installed in the town. The organization’s drivers are local volunteers who are retired farmers. They provide rides around Fresno County at no cost to the passengers. Funding for the program comes from The Latino Equity Advocacy & Policy Institute (LEAP), private foundations, EVgo, General Motors, and several California state agencies, including California Air Resources Board (CARB), California Workforce Development Board (CWDB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC).
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