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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Electric vehicle rental co-op could roll out pilot program in Spokane by fall

A pair of EV cars, a Chevy and a Ford, get some juice at a charging station located at Spokane Community College in this September 2022 photo. The city of Spokane is looking to partner with a co-op to bring rentable electronic vehicles to city streets in the next couple of years.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Electric vehicles remain out of financial reach for most consumers, but Spokane residents may soon have an option to rent one from a nonprofit co-op.

Last Monday, the Spokane City Council unanimously agreed to sign onto a letter requesting grant funds from the state Department of Transportation to launch a pilot program through the Zero Emission Vehicle Cooperative, or ZEV Co-op.

If the funds are granted, ZEV Co-op would establish up to two depots where electric vehicles could be rented, driven for a period of time and then returned to the depot. The city is currently eyeing siting the pilot depots in the West Central or East Central neighborhoods, or possibly near Gonzaga University, said Kelly Thomas, legislative assistant for Councilwoman Karen Stratton and interim City Council manager of Sustainability Initiatives.

Costs to rent the vehicles would vary depending on income level or whether the user is a member of the cooperative.

A member of the general public would have to pay $16 per hour, or $128 per day, on top of a $20 monthly use fee. Co-op members who bought in with a onetime equity fee of $500 would pay $8 per hour, or $64 per day. Income -qualified users would pay just $5 per hour, or $40 per day, without having to pay other fees, according to a presentation from ZEV Co-op.

The fees cover rental, maintenance, insurance and roadside assistance, among other program operations.

In addition to lower rental fees, members would be able to reserve vehicles in advance, would have voting rights in the co-op and would be eligible to join the board of directors.

ZEV Co-op staff did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Bainbridge Island-based consumer cooperative, which formed in 2021, has already established a presence in Seattle, Tacoma, Tukwila, Bainbridge Island and Port Townsend, using funds from the state’s first round of Zero-emissions Access Program, or ZAP, grants.

The state anticipates another $1.1 million will go out through the second round of grants in the 2023-25 biennium. The state requires a 10% match from local communities, and Avista Corp. has agreed to provide Spokane’s match funds, Thomas said.

City staff say the program would align with Spokane’s lofty climate goals, which require significant reductions in communitywide emissions in the coming years.

After energy production, transportation is the next largest source of greenhouse gases in the city.

Some local leaders anticipate the program, along with public transit, electric scooters and other modes of transportation, could help make it viable to eschew car ownership entirely.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” said Councilman Jonathan Bingle, shortly before the vote. “I know that, as transportation continues to move into the future, I see a significant portion of the population move towards not owning a vehicle at all.”

Still, even setting aside the emissions produced in building the electric vehicles, the pilot program will be a proof of concept, not something that will make a sizable, short-term dent in Spokane’s greenhouse gases. Each depot will be equipped with at most two vehicles; between the seven depots already established around the Puget Sound, only 11 vehicles have actually hit the pavement.

Presuming WSDOT awards the full grant amount requested by the city, at most four electric vehicles would initially be brought to the city as part of the pilot program, which would last two years.

The city should learn by this summer whether it will be awarded the grant funds, with program rollout possible by this fall, said Mason Burley, CEO of Urbanova, a Spokane-based “smart city” research group that worked with Avista and ZEV Co-op to explore the possibility of the program.

“Part of our role was to look at the business model and help Avista see if it’s viable,” Burley said.

“This seems like a good value and a reduced risk model.”

Work to watch for

Grind and overlay work has crews working on Cedar Street between Sprague and Fourth avenues just north of Interstate 90 downtown this week.

Lanes will be closed on southbound Lincoln Street between 17th and 18th avenues this week for utility work.

Lanes will be closed on southbound Stevens Street between North River Drive and Spokane Falls Boulevard this week for utility work.

Spokane Transit Authority station work will close a southbound lane of Monroe Street between Mallon and Broadway avenues and Spofford and Maxwell avenues beginning Monday through June 2.

The Night Market has returned to Kendall Yards. On Wednesdays throughout the summer from noon to 9 p.m., Summit Parkway will be closed between Cedar Street and Adams Lane.

The long-awaited rebuilt East Trent Avenue bridge over the Spokane River is expected to reopen to traffic in mid-July.

Shoulder work will cause lane restrictions on Thorpe Road from Grove Road to the city limits of Spokane, and on Andrus Road from Spotted Road to Jensen Road, on Monday through Thursday in the county.