Free Wheelin’, the Waitsfield-based free transportation service for homebound folks and others in need of a ride, is seeking American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from local towns to purchase an electric vehicle next year.
Free Wheelin’, which was created through a partnership of the Mad River Valley Community Fund, the Mad River Valley Interfaith Council and the Mad River Valley Senior Citizens three years ago, currently provides an average of 100 free rides a month to local folks and has 200 registered users.
The Valley Reporter interviewed Mike Bransfield, a Mad River Valley Senior Citizens board member and now the director of Free Wheelin’, as well as Rebecca Baruzzi, one of the organizational founders of the nonprofit, this week for details on why and how an electric vehicle is right for the organization now.
“We’re seeing that ARPA funds are going to be available and there are more EVs coming onto the market that seniors can comfortably get in and out of and that can get up and down our roads,” Baruzzi said.
“The perfect vehicle for us is something like a Subaru Forester. Other all-wheel drives, like the Subaru Imprezza are too close to the ground and also don’t have the ground clearance we need. We’re looking for an EV as our main vehicle, which means we’ll put 20,000 miles on it a year. We’d like to do it in a more responsible way,” Bransfield said.
Free Wheelin’ relies on its main vehicle and also on volunteer drivers. The nonprofit budgets $250 a month for gas plus funds to reimburse volunteer drivers for the use of their own vehicles.
Baruzzi said that Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston and Moretown would be approached about contributing to the cost of an EV. She said she believes the car will cost $55,000-$60,000 although Bransfield thinks it can be had for less.
“It may be more reasonable than that. There are tremendous tax incentives, but because we’re a nonprofit the incentives don’t work unless we lease the car and give the tax credits back to the dealership,” he said.
“The Subarus get 220 miles on a full charge and we typical drive our main car 200 miles a day,” he added.
In terms of how and where the EV would get charged, Baruzzi said initially it would be at Evergreen Place in Waitsfield. Evergreen Place is owned by Downstreet.
“We’re in conversations with Downstreet about how the charging is going to work. If it’s only Free Wheelin’ that is using it, it will be a level two charging station connected to Evergreen Place power. The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) is looking to create a program that meets this niche and Green Mountain Power is doing the same. We’ve also reached out to the energy committees in each town,” Baruzzi explained.
Information from ACCD about grants for charging station and multi-unit residences and nonprofit initiatives will be coming next spring, she added.
She and Bransfield have approached the Fayston Select Board with their request and will appear before the Moretown Select Board next week. They have submitted a funding request to the Waitsfield ARPA committee and wait to hear about how funding requests from Warren are to be submitted.
“Free Wheelin has been a tremendous support to our community for the last three years and was so critical to people especially during COVID. I do believe this is a place where towns’ support is important,” Baruzzi added.
Free Wheelin operates with a combination of some staff and volunteers, providing about 100 rides a month. The service is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.