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An Urban Tribe In Arizona Takes First Steps To Electric Transit

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When we think of Native American tribes, it’s tempting to think of rural areas, far removed from big city life. If you’re going to visit the Navajo Nation, you’ve got to make a plan to go there, or at least to go somewhere nearby, for example. Among us white people, misconceptions abound that make us feel like a Native American nation is like a whole other country — some exotic far-flung locale that is somehow still part of the Arizona Old West.

However, there are tens of thousands of people driving into these ancient nations every day without giving it a second thought in the Phoenix metro area. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, right next to Scottsdale, Mesa, and Tempe in the East Valley, is one of them. While recognized Native American tribes have a degree of sovereignty under federal law, they’re still part of the United States, so you don’t need a passport or special permission to visit. Highways 101 and 202 pass right through parts of the community, and there’s a strip of stores on the limits of the reservation just outside Scottsdale city limits that many people don’t even know are on Native lands.

Far less invisible are some of the tribes’ (there are two tribes that share the reservation) businesses. There’s the Talking Stick Resort and Casino that provides a colorful light show to anyone passing by, and a luxurious experience inside. There’s also a large aquarium with penguins and other exhibits, along with various other tourist and family attractions along the freeway.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re the stereotypical tribe that survives by running a casino. There are a number of successful businesses in the community, and its members (I met a good number of them when I drove for Uber a few years ago) have jobs and social lives in the metro area just like anyone else. They’ve managed to keep their unique culture and identity while also being a vital part of the Phoenix Metro.

Electrifying Community Transit

Like any other local government in Arizona, the Salt River Community has a transit agency. To enable tribal members living in the community without cars to get to work and do other things, their bus system links to the wider Valley Metro bus and light rail transit system. Like most transit agencies, Salt River Transit stands to benefit big from fleet electrification while reducing the Community’s carbon footprint.

To get this started, they hired Zero Emission Vehicles, Inc (ZEV), an Arizona-based company that specializes in converting existing gas- and diesel-powered vehicles to electric. They worked with the agency to figure out everything that needs to happen to make their bus system go full electric.

“ZEV is honored to be working with SRPMIC, we are at the ground level of transforming vehicle operations to eliminate all carbon emissions. We are fully committed to the Salt River Indian Community and their goals to significantly reduce carbon emissions. ZEV is excited to be working at the ground level and sees more and more commercial fleets making the move to electric”, said Jay Ennesser, ZEV SVP, Sales.

The company and the Community looked at routes, locations for charging infrastructure, the need for air conditioning (hey, it’s Arizona), heat, and typical passenger loads. They then developed not just a plan for buying and building, but also a plan for effectively managing their upcoming electric transit system.

“The SRPMIC Department of Transportation is taking a mindful approach to establishing a dynamic Fleet Electrical Program,” said, Tonya Glass, SRPMIC Fleet Vehicle Specialist, “The success of DOT Electrification Program is a based collaborative effort between our internal customers, local innovators, and subject matter experts in the field of sustainability and technology. It is an exciting time to contribute to the environment sustainability of the Community.”

Source: ZEV, Inc. press release — Featured image provided by ZEV, Inc.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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