Think BIG. Think electric. Arlington County and the City of Alexandria partnered to sponsor the first Think BIG About the Future of Movement event at Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria (NVCC) on Sunday, Oct. 2.
Rebecca Moser, the event organizer for Arlington County, says, “We’ve never held this event in the past and started our heavy planning in May. But it wasn’t soon enough given the scope and the scale of the event.” In addition to the opportunity to drive an electric vehicle and to explore the different options in a technical showcase with buses, electric school buses and transit buses, there was an afternoon of speakers, children’s activities with boothing and tabling exhibitions.
Moser, who is Environmental Management Associate, Energy Market Specialist on the AIRE Team in the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services and Bill Eger, the Energy Manager for the City of Alexandria, have been working regionally on the event. Eger says it was an opportunity to educate the community on how electric vehicles work, the availability and types and to build comfort. He says the event fit with the Alexandria and Arlington mutual goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.
Moser says the e-mobility rodeo allowed a person to test drive a number of vehicles including cars, scooters and bikes. She says since people are test driving vehicles, the organizers are partnering with Columbus American who have hosted riding driving events in the past. She says they are doing most of the logistics, working with dealerships to get cars, getting insurance. “So far we have Mercedes and Hyundai, are working with Ford, Audi and Mini Cooper.”
In addition to the planning and organization for the event itself, the team had to make a contingency plan in view of the weekend weather projections. “We’ve been checking in every two hours. As of right now it’s still on. The bottom garage is completely covered.” Eger said after the event that weather was a challenge but fortunately NVCC had a parking structure that worked for most of the activities. But he says they had one of the 14 electric Dash buses on display but it didn’t fit and had to be parked up on the street so it was a little less of a feature than they had hoped.
The children were able to join in the fun with a coloring table stacked with black and white logos of trains, buses and cars printed on butcher paper. They could get a temporary tattoo of a plane, train or bike and take home a squish ball in the shape of the van imprinted with the event logo. And if your poker chip travels down the Plinko board to the energy-related question number at the bottom, you can win a prize for a correct answer.
The three afternoon discussion sessions focused on “EV Ownership & Home Charger Installation,” with both an Alexandria and Arlington resident and dealership owner, followed by “Local EV Development and Initiatives” and the final session “Research, Advancements and Innovation in the EV Space” with Dr. Jennifer Gerbi, Department of Energy Acting Director of Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Moser said this project has been an organizational challenge and a learning curve. Since it is being held at NVCC which is state-owned and not in Arlington or Alexandria they had to sign a facility rental agreement and get insurance that would normally have been covered by the local governments. There were a lot of legal obstacles. “But we have the groundwork done to replicate it in the future.”
Eger says the only thing he’d change next time is the weather (if he could). “It was a little bit of a challenge with the weather but overall it was really great. People were really enthusiastic to see and to share their experiences with EVs. It was a really exciting peer to peer sharing. An electric vehicle is a car but it has new features or ways of operating that people need to learn.”
Eger says the most recent DMV records indicate Alexandria households have about 1,200 electric cars which is 3-5% “but it is growing.” Eger speculates that part of the reluctance to purchase an EV has to do with the limited availability and long waiting lists. And he adds part of the reluctance has to do with education and not knowing enough about owning and operation. He explains that was the purpose of this event, one of many different events held around the country during National Drive Electric Week.
Moser adds Arlington and Alexandria have both been urging citizens to move toward sustaining practices “and we want to educate citizens on how easy it is to make the switch to an electric vehicle and get your home set up for electric charging.” The transportation goals are part of the Community Energy Plan which is a long-term vision for rethinking Arlington.