Location: Zion National Park, UT Fleet Type: Electric Shuttle
“Protection of the air quality in and around the park, and leadership in transitioning to cleaner alternative fuels was an important consideration for Zion and the National Park Service from the start.” -Zion National Park
EVZion stands as a remarkable achievement, showcasing the potential of advanced electric shuttle technology to enhance visitor experiences at Zion National Park, while aligning with the sustainability goals of local communities. The unique challenges posed by overcrowding at the main entrance through Springdale prompted the creation of the East Zion Initiative—an innovative collaboration between the Park Service and private stakeholders to establish a new access point through the Mt. Carmel Highway. Given the highway’s historical significance and demanding terrain, the deployment of electric shuttles became a focal point. These shuttles underwent rigorous testing in various climates and road conditions to ensure their reliability and performance. Spearheaded by Utah Clean Cities and backed by Department of Energy funding, this pioneering effort brings together Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Vehicle Technologies.
A Lightning Motors E-450 BEV shuttle commenced testing on the Mt. Carmel route in late 2021, continuing into 2022. The shuttle exhibited exceptional range performance, covering the 22-mile round trip with precision. Notably, its handling, drivability, and torque exceeded initial expectations. The utilization of kinetic and regenerative braking on the descent into the park showcased remarkable energy efficiency, with a mere fraction of battery loss. Impressively, the shuttle experienced less than a 2% battery reduction while descending, and around 20-22% loss during the uphill climb. Its capacity to complete two round trips with 30% battery retention on the second trip further underscored its efficiency.
In August 2023, the fleet saw the addition of two Lightning ZEV3 Class 3 passenger vans, handpicked for their suitability in the narrow Mt. Carmel tunnel that supports two-way traffic. These vans, with a proven track record in various transit contexts nationwide, were chosen to address specific width challenges posed by the tunnel. This expansion coincided with the demonstration of Lightning Mobile—a technology that delivers DC fast charging through a trailer format. This innovation proves invaluable, particularly in remote locations where grid access may be limited
Establishment of an interconnected transit system that prioritizes clean modes of transportation, enhancing connectivity for both gateway and commuter communities.
Execution of a comprehensive analysis of historical regional transit initiatives and existing systems within the designated project focus area, namely the regional southwest and greater Zion area.
Thorough assessment of community needs through research and direct engagement, specifically targeting transit-related activities and planning for underserved populations in gateway and commuter communities surrounding Zion National Park.
Informed project approach through extensive community engagement activities, ensuring the project aligns with and addresses transportation needs and priorities.
Substantial reduction in vehicular traffic within and around the park, leading to minimized emissions and improved air quality.
Enhanced accessibility to clean and connected mobility options, benefiting local residents and travelers alike.
Mitigation of traffic congestion, noise pollution, long wait times, and safety concerns through smart mobility solutions.
Strengthened economic support for the park and surrounding communities by promoting tourism and recreational activities.
Improved equity in travel options for local communities and increased accessibility for travelers, particularly those utilizing electric vehicles, bicycles, and electric public/private transit.
Creation of a replicable transportation model that can be adapted for implementation in other national parks, facilitating the advancement of connected transportation systems
Best Practices & Lessons Learned
The success of EVZion is a testament to meticulous analysis, comprehensive community engagement, and strategic collaboration. By prioritizing clean and connected mobility solutions, the project addresses congestion, emissions, and accessibility issues around Zion National Park. This approach has the potential to serve as a model for similar initiatives in other national parks, making a broader impact on sustainable transportation advancements.
Moreover, the achievements of EVZion are underpinned by the careful and well-structured sustainability and transformation planning carried out by Zion Park. As the largest national park transit system in the country, Zion Park’s adept management of stakeholders from both the public and private sectors is praiseworthy. Notable is the partnership with Zion National Park’s leadership, exemplified by their seamless transition from propane shuttles—used for over two decades—to electric buses. This transition reflects the park’s commitment to embracing innovative technologies that enhance both operational efficiency and environmental preservation.