Transportation is vital to everyone in our community, but as it currently stands, transportation presents a significant challenge to decreasing our impact on the environment.
In late 2016, the City of Boulder formally adopted goals to guide Boulder’s climate action efforts. As part of these goals, Boulder is part of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and is committed to cutting emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050. As a transportation provider, Via is well aware of the impact that our services have on the environment, and we are committed to doing our part to help the City of Boulder reach its carbon-neutral goals.
Via: Providing Community Transportation Since 1979
Via is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting access, independence and self-sufficiency for people with limited mobility. Via provides on-demand, wheelchair accessible, door-through-door, driver-assisted paratransit services, travel training and regional mobility options information and referral assistance.
Since 1979, Via has grown from a small organization to an integral part of the Boulder County and larger regional communities, employing over 300 of our neighbors. In 2017, more than 2,600 individuals utilized Via’s paratransit service, taking over 130,000 trips to destinations including medical appointments, grocery stores, volunteer opportunities, community events, and more. Our Travel Training program has empowered hundreds in the Boulder-Denver metro area, teaching them how to navigate RTD’s services independently.
Via operates the HOP in partnership with the City of Boulder. It routinely connects over 60,000 individuals each month to the University and local businesses throughout downtown and the 29th Street Mall, supporting our local economic and social systems. Revenue earned from operating the HOP and other contracts with RTD offset the operating losses of the paratransit, travel training, and mobility options programs; these programs provide a community connection to those who might otherwise become isolated.
Over the last 39 years, Via has been able to grow sustainably, allowing us to continue to provide essential transportation options to the most vulnerable in our community. As we look forward, we know that it will take further innovation for us to continue to provide these services. One way that we plan to do this is through investment in renewable and clean energies.
Current and Future Investments
Via’s focus on sustainable growth is not new. In 2010, during the final stages of construction of Via’s facility on 63rd Street in Boulder, a 97kW grid-connected photovoltaic solar power system was installed on the roof of the maintenance wing. Installed by Lighthouse Solar at no cost to Via, the power from this system was directed back into the grid. In 2016, Via was named Boulder’s first Resiliency Hub, leading to a partnership between Via, the City of Boulder, Boulder County and Pos-En, a sustainable engineering firm. Through grants provided by the City of Boulder and Boulder County, Via was able to purchase the solar battery storage and natural gas generator required for off-grid operation, allowing Via to operate independently of the larger utility system to sustain a sheltering facility during a wide-scale disruption.
The installation of this system, designed and built by Pos-En, was completed in early 2018. This project resulted in the creation of a micro-grid which utilizes multiple sources of energy including solar, a CNG generator, solar battery storage and standard electric grid feed designed to be flexible, scalable and adaptable. In early summer 2018, Via began installing additional solar panels, and we will continue to expand our solar array, utilizing the remaining space on the roof of our facility and other locations on our property. As technology improves and the price of solar, battery storage and other technology continue to fall, Via plans to seize opportunities to leverage sustainability through the growth of our renewable energy portfolio and investment in electric and other clean energy vehicles.
From Diesel to Electric
Via operates a fleet of over 80 vehicles, ranging from an electric Nissan LEAF and hybrid-electric Prius sedans to body-on-chassis wheelchair-accessible vans and 30-foot diesel powered HOP buses. We are acutely aware of the amount of energy that it takes to run an operation of this size and as such, we feel that it is imperative to lead the way in providing transit sustainably and effectively.
While the advent of the personal electric vehicle has arrived, sourcing renewably-powered alternatives to larger vehicles, the bulk of Via’s fleet, continues to present challenges; the most significant obstacle being the capital investment necessary to procure each electric bus and the amount of time it takes to receive each bus once ordered. Last year, Via secured funding for the first electric HOP bus, a 35-foot BYD bus and charging station manufactured in China, and we have been able to leverage this funding to include two additional buses and charging stations. These buses are slated to arrive in late 2018 or early 2019.
In the meantime, Via has begun to pursue other opportunities, leading to a partnership between Via and Loveland-based Lightning Systems, a global developer of zero-emission solutions for commercial fleets, to repower a 2004 diesel bus with battery-electric systems. Recycling an old HOP vehicle allows us to extend the useful life of the bus by six or eight years while also reducing the investment necessary to go electric. This repowered bus and charging station will cost roughly $260,000 instead of $800,000, the cost of a brand new vehicle.