An upstart Portland eco-shuttle service wants to take gridlock and pollution out of the commute and make some green in the process

POSTED: 06:00 AM PST Monday, February 4, 2008

Switching on the radio between 7 and 9 a.m. is never a positive endeavor.

Car accidents, backups and ominous air quality warnings are as common to a Portlander’s commute as a travel mug of coffee.

But eco-entrepreneurs Fiona Mitchell, Jesse Yun and William Sampson think they’ve found a way to ease the stress of commuting in the form of a big, white biodiesel van.

The nine-passenger van, powered by “B100” fuel – all biodiesel with zero traditional fuel – has spent its last seven months acting as an eco-conscious limousine service, ferrying revelers to vineyards, Portland nightclubs and even the coast as part of EcoShuttle’s special events services.

“We began as an airport shuttle,” Mitchell, marketing and advertising director and co-owner of EcoShuttle, said. “Then we started using it as an entertainment shuttle to supplement our income.”

Now, Mitchell, Yun and Sampson, the three sole staff members of EcoShuttle, have decided to take their business to the next level, contracting with Portland businesses through EcoShuttle’s Environmental Commuter Options program.

The service seeks to reduce single-occupancy commuting by contracting with businesses to use their shuttle service for going to and from work.

“There is a lot of growth in Portland and companies are expanding,” Mitchell said. “There are more business parks being built. Congestion is getting worse. This service will take away bus transfers and reduce congestion and pollution.”

Yun, co-owner and operations and finance manager, thinks companies will be attracted by energy tax credit incentives.

“It can be a lucrative fringe benefit to employers,” he said. “And you aren’t paying for parking. It works out to only one dollar per day more than buying a daily TriMet pass.”

The company also plans to offer an eco-dry-cleaning service and other perks such as organic breakfast choices and coffee and tea. The shuttle is already equipped with WiFi.

“We’re trying to make this lifestyle switch as simple and productive as possible,” Mitchell said.

Though EcoShuttle is the first 100 percent biodiesel-powered commuter service in Portland, similar services, such as Google’s work shuttle program in San Francisco, have enjoyed success. Mitchell says she hasn’t even begun to make sales calls and has already received a barrage of inquiries.

In fact, demand is so high, she says, that EcoShuttle needs to expand its one-van fleet to keep up. But its short business life has made it difficult for the company to obtain necessary resources, like loans.

“Most banks want to see one year of financial information,” Yun said. “Right now we only have seven months’ worth.”

Still, the owners are optimistic about their business, planning to eventually expand to other West Coast cities, including Seattle.

The fleet, like the company, will grow in time, Mitchell said.

“We’re hoping to get a larger limo-bus that seats 25,” she said. “I’d also like to get a few hybrids, for things like taking couples out on wine tours. As green technology advances, our fleet will change to what’s best for the environment.”

EcoShuttle plans to continue its entertainment service as well. Its specialized itineraries, including sustainable wine and micro-brewery tours and jaunts to Oregon’s ancient forests, cater to the local-centric and sustainable mindsets of many Oregonians.

“We’re about keeping things local and giving back to the economy and Oregon,” Yun said. “Portland is growing at an exponential rate, and we want to be at the forefront of the commuter industry.”