St. Louis, or “the Gateway to the West” is a classical Midwestern city nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River. St. Louis was home to the nation's first gasoline station, and today, the region is second in the nation only to the Detroit area in automobile production. One finds beautiful European-inspired architecture of municipal and residential buildings along with stoic grand cathedrals throughout the city. But also like Detroit, St. Louis has been hit with an economic downturn from a dwindling population which peaked at more than 850,000 residents in the mid-1950s to just over 300,000 today. This, among other explicit policies, has created inequality among residents, most dramatically along racial lines (see the “Delmar Divide”).
This history helps make St. Louis a great place to pitch a novel electric vehicle project, such as the St. Louis Vehicle Electrification Rides for Seniors (SiLVERS) program.
SiLVERS provides electric vehicles to two community centers, Northside Youth and Senior Service Center (NYSSC) and City Seniors Inc. (CSI), to provide non-emergency rides to elders and distribute food to homebound seniors in North and South St. Louis. Through the program, NYSSC received three vehicles and three charging stations and CSI received two vehicles and two charging stations.
SiLVERS arose from Forth’s work in St. Louis through the Bloomberg American Climate Cities Challenge in early 2020. Support from City staff and local residents to continue electrification work in St. Louis led to a successful grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy. Forth and the project team wanted to showcase a region that had not been as involved in the transportation electrification development as some of its coastal peers. (Though this is quickly changing – St. Louis’ transit agency, Metro, procured 14 electric busses in 2021).
The SiLVERS program serves historically underserved communities with cutting-edge technology to offset fossil fuel-powered trips, furthering the City’s sustainability goals. This pilot will demonstrate:
EV fleets can save social service agencies money on transportation expenses and improve service
Electric vehicle charging equipment for fleets can also serve employees and community members
How the use of EVs by service agencies can accelerate regional EV adoption
Tools and best practices, which can be replicated nationwide
After months of preparation, the official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at NYSSC on September 30, 2021. The event featured speeches by stakeholders associated with the project. They noted the importance of demonstrating these technologies not just as a preventive measure for climate change, but as a way to improve health in communities of color, as these communities are disproportionately affected by harmful air pollutants from gasoline vehicles. The event was well attended, and energy and spirits were high.
SiLVERS could not have gotten to this point without an amazing cohort of individuals and funders working to make this idea a reality. While I often feel the work Forth is involved in truly is making a positive impact in the world, after a difficult year and a half, seeing firsthand what it means to make an impact at the community level is what keeps us goin
“This program could have been anywhere. I’m glad you chose St. Louis”
– Anneliese Stoever of St. Louis Agency on Aging.
SiLVERS has two more years of implementation and data collecting on a variety of metrics. We are looking forward to reporting and sharing our project learnings, and ideally replicating and scaling this project. I had the opportunity to visit with several other stakeholders during my time in St. Louis and the energy for equitable, clean transportation is abundant. I’m excited to see where this program can go in St. Louis - and beyond.