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St. Louis’ senior citizens can get rides to the store in electric cars

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Niara Savage
St. Louis Public Radio
Seniors in St. Louis can get free rides in electric Chevy Bolts.

Seniors in St. Louis will soon receive nonemergency transportation to grocery stores, doctor’s appointments and social activities through a new electric car-sharing service.

The St. Louis Vehicle Electrification Rides for Seniors program launched this week. It provides electric vehicles to the Northside Youth and Senior Service Center and City Seniors Inc., in south city.

The SiLVERS program was implemented by Portland, Oregon-based group Forth, which advocates for laws and policies to expand the use of clean transportation and to offset reliance on fossil fuels.

Forth program manager Connor Herman said the nonprofit selected St. Louis as the location for the service because cities outside the East and West Coasts are sometimes overlooked when it comes to promoting and utilizing sustainable technology.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate in a Midwestern state “that this type of technology works,” Herman said.

The federal Department of Energy awarded Forth funding for the program in July 2020. The advocacy group partnered with the City of St. Louis, Ameren, General Motors and Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge to bring the service to the city.

Jennifer Bess, executive director of City Seniors, said the program will improve the quality of life for seniors.

“We’re really excited because we can offer a generation who only imagined electric vehicles the opportunity to ride in an electric vehicle,” Bess said.

The center has received two electric Chevy Bolts and will serve residents on the south side of the city after charging stations are fully installed. People over 60 can schedule rides by making a phone call.

Bloomberg Philanthropies included St. Louis as one of 25 cities in its American Cities Climate Challenge in 2018. The initiative is aimed at helping cities address the climate crisis and promote a more sustainable future.

The total price tag to run the program for three years is about $1 million, including the cost of the vehicles, insurance, charging stations and staff time to develop the project. During the three-year period, Forth will partner with electric vehicle software company AmpUp to track the number of rides given and measure the amount of energy required to power the vehicles. It will then compare the data to the amount of fuel needed to power a typical combustion engine vehicle.

The Northside Youth and Senior Service Center received three electric vehicles.

Shana Watson, the center’s director, said seniors were visibly excited about the electric cars at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

“A lot of them wanted to sit in [the vehicles] and look under the hood and see what’s in there and see that it’s only a battery and a few other fluids,” Watson said.

While there are already several options for seniors to receive transportation in St. Louis, Watson said the smaller electric vehicles may allow seniors to travel longer distances outside of the city. She added that the need for transportation has grown during the pandemic because vans typically used to transport seniors can only be filled to half-capacity to ensure social distancing.

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Niara Savage
St. Louis Public Radio
Charging stations are fully installed at Northside Youth and Senior Service Center in north St. Louis.

Charging stations at Northside are fully installed, but the center isn’t up and running yet. Watson said Northside will start offering rides sometime this month, after drivers receive training arranged by Forth.

Follow Niara on Twitter: @niaraalexandra

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