The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) is using the FireFly ESV for parking enforcement.

The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) is using the FireFly ESV for parking enforcement.

Small service vehicles are crucial to the operations of all kinds of public-sector fleets, taking care of tasks such as parking enforcement, delivery, and grounds maintenance. Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) in Tennessee recently acquired a new service vehicle, the Firefly Electric Service Vehicle (ESV) and is using it for parking enforcement.

Note: You can click any of the photos to see additional photos of the Firefly in operation.

CARTA has a long history of using electric vehicles in its transit fleet. When it got the opportunity to try out another type of electric vehicle for parking enforcement, the organization made the decision to purchase a Firefly.

Government Fleet spoke with Brent Matthews, CARTA’s director of parking, and Wade Butzer, the organization’s shop foreman, about the Firefly and their focus on EVs in their fleet. The fleet has a total of 17 electric buses in operation and three hybrid buses. CARTA has one Firefly in service and was planning to purchase another Firefly at the beginning of 2013.

“We took over parking enforcement in October, 2012,” Matthews said. “The city council made us the parking authority, too. What we’ve done collection and maintenance of the meters for six years, and we’ve gone with an ambassador approach and put them more on foot and tried that approach where they’re out there to help people. It’s not so confrontational; it’s a better way to handle enforcement. We’re using the Firefly in some of the enforcement areas further away.”

Matthews said he saw the vehicle at the International Parking Institute trade show and decided to pilot the vehicle to see if it would cost-effectively meet CARTA’s needs.

“If we could get the mileage out of it that [the company’s representatives] felt it could get, we would be happy with it,” Matthews said. “It’s performed really well so far. We’ve had it out for about 6-7 weeks.”

CARTA has been tracking its performance and the number of miles the Firefly is getting per charge each day since the organization began operating the vehicle.

“We just have a basic charger, one in an area away from the area from the shuttle bus,” Matthews said. “It’s one we got at Home Depot. It works off of 110 volts. It takes four hours to fully charge [the Firefly]. We’re running a computer system [that tracks it] every day, so we know how far we’re going each day and how much battery life we have left. “We’re averaging about 50 miles per day, and the average amount of battery life left is 12%. Some of that depends on how many times we’re moving over hills that day. That will affect it a little bit, but we’re pretty happy with what we’re seeing.”

Matthews explained that electricity costs are fairly low and that CARTA typically charges it overnight during off-peak hours.

“We’re looking at a minimal cost for electricity,” Matthews said. “We’re looking at about 3,000 available charges for the battery. At the rate we’re going, that could be almost 10 years for us. We looked at Volts and LEAFs, and the costs for them were almost $40,000, and the Firefly, with everything, lock, stock, and barrel, was $32,000.”

Beyond cost-effectiveness and performance, the CARTA employee who drives the vehicle on a regular basis is happy with it.

“You think it would be really tight in there but there’s actually quite a bit of room inside the cab,” Matthews said. “I’m a big guy, and I don’t feel cramped in there. The driver doesn’t really have any complaints about how it drives. He can shoot (using a scanner) the license plates at about 25 to 30 mph and he’s not having any problems doing that.”

According to CARTA's Director of Parking Brent Matthews, the vehicle has plenty of space inside.

According to CARTA's Director of Parking Brent Matthews, the vehicle has plenty of space inside.

Although there are other types of service vehicles available, CARTA decided to go with the Firefly due to the City’s and the transit agency’s commitment to operating zero-emissions vehicles, a commitment CARTA has kept for more than 20 years.

“At one time Chattanooga was a very dirty city,” explained CARTA’s Butzer. “Actually we were rated the third dirtiest (in air pollution) in the United States. To get the pollution out of downtown we went to an electric operation. Over the 20 years that we’ve operated electric buses we’ve carried something like three million people. We’ve saved 194,800 lbs. of emissions. We’ve also saved 483,000 gallons of diesel.”

By Greg Basich