bicycle mechanic
Bike mechanic Aaron Daigle works on an E-bike in the repair shop at Landry's Bicycles in Worcester, Massachusetts. Credit: Rick Cinclair / Telegram & Gazette / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Massachusetts has announced $5 million in grants for pilot projects aimed at connecting disadvantaged populations with clean, electric transportation. 

The program, known as Accelerating Clean Transportation for All, will fund 10 projects across the state that are focused on improving infrastructure for electric taxis, increasing adoption of e-bikes, electrifying nonprofit fleets, or educating consumers about electric vehicles.

“The overarching goal of that program is to address clean transportation in areas that are overburdened by greenhouse gasses and also underserved by public transportation,” said Rachel Ackerman, director for transportation programming at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the agency administering the grant program. 

Environmental justice has been a centerpiece of Massachusetts’ policy since last year, when the state passed ambitious climate legislation that included several provisions for ensuring the clean energy transition benefits low-income residents and communities of color. Accelerating Clean Transportation for All was developed with this goal in mind. 

The grant-winning proposals will receive between $152,000 and $1 million to implement their plans. The clean energy center is in the process of finalizing contracts with the grantees, but many projects are expected to launch as early as this summer. 

The projects are likely to get more people using electric transportation, but the goal goes beyond direct impact. The hope is that implementation of the projects will offer insight into effective strategies for expanding access to clean transportation. 

“We’re going to be receiving a lot of metrics and lessons learned,” Ackerman said. “All of these are intended to be pilots to help identify what is the best way to bring these kinds of projects to scale.”

Pedal powered

Five of the projects relate to getting more e-bikes on the road, from a city of Boston initiative to use cargo e-bikes for delivery services to a plan to launch an e-bike share service in western Massachusetts. 

Metro Mobility, a Cambridge-based clean transportation start-up, will receive $1 million to increase e-bike ridership in low-income areas and environmental justice neighborhoods. The plan is to deploy 170 bikes according to three different models, allowing the company and state to assess which approach is most effective in displacing fossil fuel-based trips. 

One model will create e-bike stations in population-dense areas, from which anyone can rent a bike for the day for as little as $1, to be returned to the same location. The other two models will give riders their own e-bikes; some of these participants will be given access to charging infrastructure, others will be asked to charge their bikes at home. All the bikes will be equipped with GPS, so Metro Mobility can analyze, in detail, how and where the bikes are being used.

While a lack of safe routes, concerns about police profiling, and harassment from drivers can be significant barriers to cycling for people of color, the program is intended to be a learning experience for all involved. 

“The grant will allow us to deploy our system in a few different ways and see how it will be most useful,” said Ryan Walas, the company’s director of marketing. 

A project on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard is also trying out ways to get more e-bikes on the road. The Cape Light Compact, a regional energy aggregator and services organization, was awarded $496,000 for its plan to offer rebates of up to 75% on the purchase price on e-bikes bought by residents of 12 towns identified as environmental justice areas. The target is to deploy an additional 240 e-bikes beginning this spring.

Interested buyers will apply to the compact and receive a notice of approval. Buyers can then bring this approval to a designated partner bike shop. The rebate will be applied at the point of sale so the buyer will only have to pay the 25% copay; the shop will be reimbursed and receive a small administrative fee. Participating shops must also include a bike helmet, bike lock, and one year of maintenance. 

This arrangement makes it easier for lower-income buyers who might have trouble coming up with the entire price up front and also streamlines the administration of the program, said compact administrator Maggie Downey. 

“Bike stores are very interested and want to get it going as soon as possible,” Downey said. 

Deploying electric cars

Other projects aim to expand the use of electric cars for personal use, in fleets, and as ride-for-hire vehicles. 

Some of the projects aim to accelerate the electrification of taxis and rideshare vehicles, such as those operated by Uber and Lyft drivers. The Massachusetts Port Authority, the quasi-public agency that operates Boston Logan International Airport, was awarded $615,000 to install charging infrastructure and to develop incentive programs that will encourage ride-for-hire businesses to switch to electric vehicles. 

The Way Forward Taxi Alliance, a group of taxi-industry stakeholders that convened last spring to help advance the sector, will be using its $500,000 award to help minority-owned taxi companies to both make the move to electric vehicles and deploy technology that will help drivers better plan routes and coordinate with each other. The grant money will help overcome a major obstacle to this vision, planners said. 

“There’s a lot of interest in doing it, but the cost is prohibitive for most drivers right now,” said Chenelle Brown, director of external relations for the alliance. 

Other efforts are focused on education and awareness. In the town of Sturbridge, the Electric Vehicle Discovery Center, a new facility aimed at sharing information about clean transportation, will receive a $500,000 grant to fund their education and outreach. The nonprofit Green Energy Consumers Alliance was awarded $315,000 to work with Quincy Asian Resources to integrate electric vehicle education and awareness into existing workforce development and youth programming. 

The idea is to help overcome current stereotypes about can and does drive electric vehicles, said Anna Vanderspek, electric vehicle program director at the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

“There is this feeling that [electric vehicles] are luxury vehicles, culturally,” she said. “If we want to make electric mobility available to more folks, we have to do something special and extra to make sure that happens.”

Soldier On, a western Massachusetts nonprofit that provides housing and services to veterans, will be using its $152,000 grant to replace three of the vehicles it uses to transport veterans to appointments with electric models, and install charging infrastructure. The organization, which provides clients with some 20,000 rides each year, expects to both help the environment and save money by cutting costs on fuel and maintenance. 

“We want to be doing something that’s fuel-efficient — not something where we’re pumping fossil fuels out into the atmosphere,” said Dominick Sondrini, vice president of Soldier On. “And what’s going to end up happening is we’re going to be able to do our job cheaper.”

Sarah Shemkus

Sarah is a longtime journalist who covers business, technology, sustainability, and the places they all meet. She has covered the workings of small-town government in New Hampshire, the doings of alleged swindlers and con men, and the minutiae of local food systems. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Boston Globe, TheAtlantic.com, Slate, and other publications. Based in Gloucester, Sarah covers the state of Massachusetts.