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Chattanooga’s Eco Taxi

One Man’s Eco Taxi Leads the Way for a Greener Future

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a tourist town, relying on visitors from around the world to fuel its economy. The city has shifted in recent decades away from its traditional industrial base and has attracted a number of environmentally conscious businesses and residents. As the city cleans up its industry, other environmental challenges arise. In the warmer months, tourism can bring dollars and pollution alike to the riverfront downtown.

One Rock/Creek employee, Sam Evans, has created what he calls the Eco Taxi and with it, he has set a green example for Chattanooga and for the tourists who visit it. In the article below, he tells the story of his first day on the job.

July 12, 2004 was the day I met Captain Ron, as he waited in front of the Tennessee Aquarium for anxious passengers to board his amphibious ex-military “duck” boat. It was also the first day of eco taxi service, and I was tense and unsure how my idea would be received. Captain Ron looked down at me from his diesel-powered boat-bus, which made my cart seem tiny and fragile in comparison. With a salty, almost-derisive grin he asked me, “What’s an eco taxi?” This was a question that I would encounter untold times that day, vocalized by tourists and locals alike at stoplights, or written on the puzzled expressions of turning heads on the Walnut Street Bridge.

Kids, however, seemed to know immediately what I was doing out there, pulling an improbable-looking trailer behind a shiny golden bicycle. I was giving rides. Free rides, in fact. I suppose I could have told Captain Ron that eco taxi stood for ”Earth-Conscious Organic Taxi,” and that I was attempting to demonstrate the value and viability of human-powered transportation in an urban setting (and trying to pay my way through college on the tips), but the kids were close enough—I was giving rides.

When I moved to Chattanooga, I had no prescience that I was destined to become the “bike taxi guy.” I moved here, like many other immigrants, to finish school in a prestigious environmental science program and to be closer to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available in the area. Compared to my hometown in rural Alabama, Chattanooga is a city of bicycles. And I’ve always loved bicycles. Nothing quite compares to the freedom and grace of piloting the most efficient machine ever invented. In Chattanooga, I expected to find an active group of cyclists and challenging terrain on which to train—and I did. I was surprised, however, to find a community that supports “green” values like alternative transportation and an infrastructure that facilitates pedestrianism.

The idea of free electric shuttles is at once shocking and inspiring to a newcomer. [Chattanooga introduced “Carta,” a free shuttle service utilizing zero-emissions electric busses, in 1992, and is currently considering an expansion of the free shuttle system to include more stops downtown. -Ed.] I soon realized that I could sell my truck without suffering any loss of convenience, and for the first time in my life, I was able to rely on my own power alone for transportation.

By necessity, I experienced a rapid immersion into the downtown and northshore communities. This town has the singular ability to painlessly naturalize its immigrants, and I soon found myself, quite by accident, telling new acquaintances that I was “from” Chattanooga. Without belaboring the boring details, it will suffice to say that before long, inspiration struck and the eco taxi was born.

On the day that I met Captain Ron, I spent 7 hours pedaling through Coolidge Park, across the walking bridge, and around downtown. In my memory, it was extraordinarily hot, and as my sunscreen sweated away I could feel the beginnings of a searing sunburn creeping onto my neck and arms. I do not think that it would be an overestimate to say that I drank at least 6L of water during and immediately after those 7 hours. I met some wonderfully loud ladies from Unum Provident that rode the cab to lunch, countless boisterous kids whose parents (some reluctantly, some gladly) released them into my custody for a loop around the park, and many lost and hungry tourists who simply wanted a ride from the aquarium to a restaurant.

Though they were a diverse group, they all shared big smiles. And as fun as Chattanooga can be, I like to think that I might have had something to do with that. Incidentally, I made $16 that day. I suppose that a sensible businessperson would have re-evaluated his chosen occupation after making $2.29/hr, but I’ve never been accused of having any excess of business sense. As I struggled up the final hill to my house that evening, I was elated at having been paid at all for the simple pleasure of riding a bike.

It is a pleasure that I want everyone to experience. Bicycles have given me so much: freedom of movement and of conscience, fitness and friends, and a grace that I’ve never had in any other occupation. For me, the natural response to these gifts is to share them with anyone who will accept. My hope is that every passenger will step out of my cab with the realization that bicycles are fast and efficient. If I can help people to associate human-powered transportation with fun, then we’ll be one step closer to a city where the busiest bridge isn’t Market or Olgiati or Veteran’s, but Walnut Street.

My vision of Chattanooga is a town where moms, dads, and kids ride or walk safely to work and school. Without the insulation of car windows and speed, communities can form and thrive. And as long as Chattanoogans believe, like I do, that we can make our town better tomorrow by how we live today, you’ll find me on summer days, pulling an odd little trailer and inviting everyone I meet to climb aboard.

-Sam Evans
When Sam was making $2.29 an hour with his Eco Taxi, he was also an employee at the Rock/Creek in Chattanooga’s North Shore.  He is currently enrolled in the University of Tennessee’s Environmental Science program.  Sam is an avid road biker and environmentalist.
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