Tampa Bay Clean Cities Coalition (TBCCC)
Tampa Bay Celebrates Clean Transportation Odyssey
TAMPA, Fla. (May 15, 2017) On April 20, Tampa Bay joined cities across the country to celebrate National Alternative Fuel Vehicle Day Odyssey. Developed in 2002 by the National Alternative Fuel Vehicle Training Consortium (NAFTC), Odyssey is a biennial outreach event dedicated to educating the public on the importance of advanced technology vehicles and promoting the adoption of alternative fuels.
The Tampa Bay Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo was the region's first Odyssey celebration and was presented by the Tampa Bay Clean Cities Coalition (TBCCC) in partnership with Gator Ford, Florida Transportation Systems, Inc., and national Odyssey sponsor Alliance AutoGas. Held at Gator Ford in Seffner, the event featured vehicles ranging from plug-in electric cars to natural gas and propane powered trucks and school buses, and speakers who provided updates on the region's increasing adoption and use of alternative gaseous fuels, electric vehicles, and clean transportation options.
Steve Reich, TBCCC coordinator, welcomed more than 30 attendees from both the public and private sectors. Reich later noted, "We were really pleased with our first Odyssey event and fortunate to get the caliber of speakers we did to offer an informative program."
Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp highlighted innovative transportation projects in the region, including the Cross-Bay Ferry, a six-month pilot project organized by Pinellas, Hillsborough, Tampa, and St. Petersburg, to connect the two downtown waterfronts of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Commissioner Kemp also addressed the emerging presence of advanced vehicle technologies. "Automated, connected, and electric vehicles are coming much sooner than we previously thought," Kemp said. She added that this technology is becoming more prevalent in the Tampa Bay area, noting that the Florida Automated Vehicle Summit, an event showcasing Florida's advancement in the area of automated vehicles, is hosted locally.
The event's keynote speaker, Florida Energy Office Director Kelley Smith Burk, discussed statewide alternative fuels initiatives and gave insights into the latest developments with the Volkswagen diesel settlement. The Florida Natural Gas Fuel Fleet Vehicle Rebate, administered through the Office of Energy in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, provides rebates for the cost of conversion, purchase, or lease of a natural gas or propane fueled vehicle. Burk encouraged attendees to contact local congressional offices in support of extending the rebate program. "We will continue the program if funding is available," she said.
In October 2016, Volkswagen (VW) entered into a Partial Consent Decree with the U.S. Government, agreeing to spend $2.7 billion to develop an Environmental Mitigation Trust, which will fund projects to reduce harmful NOx emissions. Once the trust is established, states will have 60 days to respond and designate a beneficiary to oversee the funds allocated to each state. Florida's portion of the fund is more than $152 million. While the status of the use of VW settlement funds in Florida is uncertain, Burk encouraged interested parties to submit ideas for input: "The Energy Office is looking for partners to help develop programs and policies in alternative fuel and alternative fuel vehicle areas."
Drive Electric Florida, a consortium of energy, environmental, and transportation interests, is working to expand the role and visibility of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in the state. Keith Gruetzmacher, senior manager of marketing services for TECO Energy and DEF board member, presented on current DEF initiatives and noted the recent surges in EV ownership. "We're seeing a big increase in electric vehicle sales," said Gruetzmacher. "Over the past two years, Florida has ranked number two in PEV sales."
A very visible example of the increasing EV presence in Tampa Bay launched last October, when the Tampa Downtown Partnership (TDP) partnered with the Downtowner, an app-based service similar to Uber, to deploy 12 electric shuttle vehicles in the downtown Tampa district. Funding from TDP, the City of Tampa, the Florida Department of Transportation, and local businesses supports the program, which provides the shuttle service at no charge to riders. Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for TDP, shared the successes of the program's first phase. "The Downtowner has been providing rides in downtown for six months, has serviced 86,000 passengers to date, and is consistently operating at full capacity," said Kress.
As the program enters its second six-month phase, Kress says the Partnership is seeking additional funding to continue the Downtowner service next year through advertising or additional support.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), one of the earlier adopters of alternative fuels in the Tampa Bay region, has embraced compressed natural gas (CNG) to power its fleet. The transit agency is currently operating 35 fixed route CNG buses, 47 CNG paratransit vehicles, and 25 CNG buses are on order for this year. Jim Fetzer, director of maintenance for HART, stressed the cost-savings and environmental benefits of this alternative fuel. "These buses are clean burning, quiet—it's a totally different riding experience," said Fetzer. "We've also seen significant reduction in carbon dioxide, despite an increase in our service."
The region has also seen a surge of interest in propane as a viable alternative fuel. Four Florida school districts in the Tampa Bay area are using alternative fuels to power their bus fleets. Jim Beekman, general manager of transportation for Hillsborough County District Schools, shared insights into the decision-making process behind converting to propane. "We went down the path of alternative fuels because of how much fuel is being used to support our bus system," said Beekman. "Hillsborough County Schools wants the latest technology on the road to service our students."
Matt Cullen, service manager for Gator Ford, closed out the session, noting the facility's expertise in the area of alternative fuel vehicle maintenance. Gator Ford's technicians are manufacturer-certified specialists trained to work on light-, medium-, and heavy-duty trucks.
Tampa Bay Clean Cities is comprised of members and stakeholders who believe in the importance of AFVs and the role they play in sustaining our environment and our energy security. By supporting local and national events such as Odyssey, the coalition continues to promote the Clean Cities message of ensuring a clean energy future for the U.S. by reducing petroleum use in transportation.
To check out more photos of the event, click here.
Written by: Austin Marie Sipiora, Tampa Bay Clean Cities Coalition
The Tampa Bay Clean Cities Coalition advances the energy, economic, and environmental security of the United States through its efforts to reduce petroleum use in transportation in our six-county region. It is the area's recognized resource for technical assistance, networking, identification of grant opportunities, and information exchange in the area of advanced transportation options, fuels, and technologies.