The Willamette can be a noisy river. Especially where it runs through downtown Portland.
Much of the time, the din of commercial and private boat engines spitting exhaust fumes vie for the primacy of sound with the roar of vehicles crossing the river on the city’s network of bridges.
Under the fabric canopy of a 12-person Duffy electric boat, the river – even the sadly convulsed city itself – seems surprisingly serene.
The ship sails almost noiselessly past the city’s landmarks — the Convention Center towers, Union Station’s rail yard, Waterfront Park — as its passengers share picnic lunches. One of them helms the ship, which spins lazily and cruises at a top speed of 7 mph.
Rented by The Electric Boat Company – which also operates on Lake Union in Seattle – the easy-to-use boats are a new way to enjoy the city.
The Electric Boat Company has been around since 2005 – one day its novelty might fade.
If tour operators and a handful of regional companies are successful, in the future you won’t need gas to explore the Pacific Northwest.
Electric vehicles have become a fixture – and a point of pride – in the region’s sustainable tourism industry. Vehicle charging stations, carbon offset circuits and e-bike rental shops are popping up in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
It’s all part of an emerging effort to green the travel industry.
A number of businesses that cater to tourists are promoting themselves as sustainable alternatives in a global industry with a huge carbon footprint.
Based in Eugene, Oregon, Acrimoto rents small, ultra-efficient electric vehicles in five states as part of its mission “to catalyze the shift to a sustainable transportation system.”
The climate cost of tourism
Tourism and outdoor recreation together contribute tens of billions of dollars to the economies of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, according to state tourism boards. In the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood region alone, visitors spent an estimated $423 million in 2021, according to Travel Oregon.
But travel has another price: greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the climate crisis.
The global tourism industry accounted for around 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions before the pandemic, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
Visitors traveling to and from the United States are responsible for most carbon emissions of any country, according to the study.
Parts of the tourism industry recognize this reality.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Coast Visitors Association declared a climate emergency and pledged to quickly reduce emissions.
There is evidence that tourists who witness the obvious and symbolic effects of climate change, such as the disappearance of a glacier, can adopt more climate-friendly lifestyles.
People can be more open-minded when traveling, says Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a Portland-based nonprofit that advocates electric transportation.
“When you’re on vacation, people tend to be open to trying new things, and different things,” Allen explains. “It’s actually a great opportunity to expose them to some of this technology.”
Launched in 2015 by Travel Oregon and the Oregon Department of Transportation, the state’s Electric Byways program established six tourist-optimized routes that feature charging stations every 25 to 50 miles. The idea: businesses with a charging station will attract more tourists.
Travel Oregon calls it “one of the largest and most robust EV fast-charging networks in the United States. It allows EV users to explore the carbon-free state.”
The six routes – Oregon Coast, North Oregon Coast, Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge, Southern Oregon Arts & Bounty, Willamette Valley Bounty, Covered Bridges – connect environmentally friendly businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, spas and wineries.
Before the pandemic limited travel, Forth partnered with the Electric Byways program in an initiative that offered up to $5,000 in rebates to tourism-related businesses that installed an electric vehicle charging station.
Seven businesses took advantage of the discounts, including wineries, hotels and the Old Parkdale Inn, a bed and breakfast in the Hood River Valley community of Parkdale.
Allen thinks electric vehicle chargers will become ubiquitous.
By the next decade, hotels that don’t offer electric vehicle charging options “will be like hotels that don’t offer ice buckets,” he says.
Although Travel Oregon doesn’t know exactly how many visitors used the back roads, anecdotal and other evidence suggests the program is growing in popularity.
“We know electric vehicles are growing in popularity. Nationwide, sales nearly doubled from 308,000 to 608,000,” a Travel Oregon spokesperson told Columbia Insight via email. “In Oregon, 15,307 EVs were newly registered, a 109% increase over 2020 and just recently Oregon met its 2020 EV goal of 50,000 EVs registered and operating in the state. Many domestic and international travelers are looking for greener travel patterns. »
Matthew Barmann owns and operates Hood River Pedicab, an electric bike and car taxi service based in Hood River, Ore.
Barmann’s business is based on clean energy.
For four years, he loaded visitors into his pedicab for tours of local art, vistas and trails.
He also uses a Tesla to ferry drivers further afield for around $1 per minute. He estimates that his fuel and maintenance costs are about one-fifth the cost of a typical gas-powered taxi or ride-sharing vehicle.
“From a business point of view, it makes sense to go electric,” he says.
Barmann promotes itself as a clean energy alternative to gas-powered means of transport and encourages customers to use public transport when possible instead of hiring it.
It directs travelers to or from Portland to the Columbia Gorge Express, a bus connecting the gorge to a transit hub near Portland International Airport.
Its taxi service is one of many gasless transportation options for visitors to Hood River. Forth partnered with government and nonprofits last year to establish an electric car sharing scheme. Visitors and locals can rent one of five Nissan Leafs at several locations around the city.
Charlie Crocker owns Sol Rides in Hood River, which rents electric pedal bikes.
He says e-bikes have become more popular since he started renting them in 2017. Tourists can rent a bike with Sol and book a guided tour of a local vineyard, orchards and trails.
“E-bikes are a way to slow everything down and become one with the area,” says Crocker.