EcoShuttle offers transport using 100 percent biodiesel


(news photo)



EcoShuttle driver Jesse Yun gives holiday party-goer Jason Jensen a ride on a recent Saturday night. The EcoShuttle is the city’s first 100 percent biodiesel-powered transport.

Near 11 p.m. on a recent Saturday evening Jesse Yun revs the V-6 engine of the EcoShuttle van up a steep hill in Northwest Portland.

At 6 p.m. Yun started picking up guests – 35 revelers dressed in their best holiday sweaters, ties and velvet gowns – from various parts of Portland and its suburbs, for a private party in the Forest Heights area.

Now, an early guest is ready to take his partying to the next level. He’s headed for a bar on Southeast Powell Boulevard, and Yun, one of the four founders of the new environmentally friendly urban transport business, is on the road again.

It’s an uphill climb, but he’s got plenty of steam. In the case of EcoShuttle, that steam is 100 percent biodiesel-powered.

Biodiesel – vegetable, animal oils and/or grease – burns cleaner than gas; some argue it burns virtually pollution-free.

Launched July 4, EcoShuttle is Portland’s first intracity transport to run on biodiesel. It may be the country’s first as well, since the few similar shuttle services in other cities use electric-gas hybrids.

“We’re classified as more a limo service, less a shuttle,” Yun says. He, along with co-founder William Sampson, are the two who drive the shuttle.

And on this night their 10-seat Dodge Sprinter is providing door-to-door limo service for its biggest private function to date.

EcoShuttle’s green-minded clients so far have ranged from corporate names such as Regence Blue Cross to entertainment powerhouses, including the Waterfront Blues Festival.

Organizers of the Hot July Nights music festival tapped EcoShuttle to transport artists (including the Doobie Brothers) to and from Vancouver, Wash. Jacques Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel Cousteau, rode the EcoShuttle to the Muddy Boot Organic Festival this fall.

The shuttle also has ferried bachelorette partiers, pub crawlers and wine tasters, but for this job, Yun notes with a sigh after dropping a partier at his pub, “we need that second shuttle.”

Yun says EcoShuttle wants to add another van, a 20- to 25-seater, in the next two months.

National trend hits home

“We knew we didn’t want people drinking and driving, so then we thought about the bigger picture,” says Eddie Creech, who is hosting tonight’s party in Forest Heights with Michael DeAngelis. “And these guys were locally owned and environmentally responsible.”

The rate for EcoShuttle hovers around $55 an hour, comparable to the base rate for a limousine.

Like other businesses, limo and shuttle services are feeling the effects of increased environmental consciousness.

Most of the half-dozen green-minded transport companies around the country employ hybrids.

The oldest and largest so far, PlanetTran, launched in 2003 in Boston, has expanded to shuttle passengers in San Francisco. PlanetTran launched with one hybrid Toyota Prius. It now has a fleet of 35.

Six months ago Dwight Ledford bought his first Ford Escape, a hybrid SUV that launched Go Green, his eco-friendly shuttle service in Charlottesville, Va.

“Two months later I bought my second,” he says.

It’s been a bumpy ride, in “a town dominated by mom and pop taxi services,” Ledford says, but business overall is doing well, with a flow of steady clients from private schools in the area, and staff and students from the University of Virginia.

Go Green has a fleet of four gas-electric hybrid vehicles now, including a newly purchased Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan.

Ledford may be a bit green with envy, too, considering his Northwest counterparts.

“Biodiesel is the way to go, but there’s only a few places you can go to fill up around here,” he says.

Fleet’s set to expand

Sampson says EcoShuttle is looking to purchase a Prius or two, to run individuals, say, to doctor’s appointments, when the larger shuttle wouldn’t be necessary.

EcoShuttle’s overall goal, however, is to operate vehicles “that use the best fuel systems that are available, when they come to the forefront,” Sampson says. They’ll never use gas or ethanol, he says. And hydrogen “isn’t yet feasible,” he says.

EcoShuttle is working on partnering with another startup, Portland Biodiesel, to run the shuttle completely on reclaimed cooking oil.

“Basically french-fry grease,” Yun says, that’s been recycled from local restaurants and through community drop-offs.

EcoShuttle’s founders are hoping that commuters realize their lunch could provide fuel for their travel to work each morning, too.

The company’s Environmental Commuter Options program is geared toward employees currently using TriMet who may have to transfer two or three times to make their way to work.

The shuttle offers commuter-friendly Wi-Fi, places to plug in laptops, and table trays. Employers can take advantage of a federal tax incentive offered to companies that take part in a travel reduction program as well as the Oregon Department of Energy’s Business Energy Tax Credit, a deduction for using less-polluting transportation fuels.

Several of tonight’s party guests work with DeAngelis at Intel Corp. or with Creech at Epic Imaging. Working is about the furthest thing from their minds during the ride, though.

Sheila and Mike Matragrano, two revelers from Hillsboro, were grateful for the extra environmentally aware effort their hosts made this year.

“This is our contribution to the greener holiday,” Sheila Matragrano says.

While environmental changes and issues have made headlines this past year, Yun realizes that action – including difficult changes of habit – still has to follow.

“It’s the hardest thing for people to do, I think – give up your automobile. But if you have two cars, all we’re asking is, maybe just use one car,” he says.

Driving back to the party to wait for the rest of the guests to take their leave, Yun adds with a weary but firm smile, “This was just the year the environment really hit some people’s consciousness, and it’s only going to grow.”

Which could mean a smoother ride ahead for the french fry-powered fleet.