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Green Fleet reducing carbon emissions one ride at a time

Eau Claire-based car service has an all-electric vehicle fleet

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February 19, 2024

EAU CLAIRE – The first modern-day electric vehicle (EV) made its debut in the U.S. auto market in 2010.

Since then, their growth has been slow, but steady. 

According to Kelley Blue Book, electric vehicles accounted for 5.7% of all auto sales in the United States in 2023 – more than double the number in 2019.

It estimates by 2028, EVs could make up more than 17% of all U.S. auto sales.

S&P Global Mobility predicts EV sales could reach as high as 40-50% of total passenger car sales by 2030.

Eau Claire businessman Bill Lobner said it was these statistics that prompted him to start a shuttle and private car service using all EVs.

Master’s degree thesis spawned business

While attending grad school at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), Lobner said he got the idea to do his thesis on carbon taxes and energy use. 

“Transportation is the No. 1 source of carbon emissions in the United States,” he said. “So, I was looking at ways on a large scale to specifically reduce transportation emissions. When I came across electric vehicles, that seemed like the only viable option to me. And now, about 10 years later, it’s been shown to be true – the future of the auto industry is definitely all-electric vehicles.”

Lobner founded Green Fleet – a private car/luxury shuttle service running routes between Eau Claire and Minneapolis – in September 2020.

The goal of the company, he said, is two-fold:

  • To provide sustainable transportation to and from the Chippewa Valley
  • To educate the public on the sustainability, convenience and even fun EVs offer

“I’ve enjoyed the academic side of things, especially at UWGB,” he said. “But I really wanted to do something in the real world and show that the research being done in academia is not just research that stays there; it absolutely can be applied in the real world.”

Humble beginnings to an entire EV fleet

Lobner said when he started the company, he was the only driver and used his own personal Tesla.

Today, he said he has a fleet of eight Teslas and about 10 drivers, with a need to hire another two to three.

In the beginning, Lobner said marketing was his biggest challenge.

To help remedy this, he said he joined the local chamber and began advertising with Facebook and Google ads – all of which he said resulted in more people knowing about the business. 

“My thought at the time was that our biggest clientele base would likely be business travelers,” he said. “So, I partnered with the Lismore Hotel in downtown Eau Claire – that was the primary way I got the word out in the early days. It was mostly business travelers who were staying in downtown Eau Claire and needed to find a way to get from the airport in Minneapolis to Eau Claire, and then back to the airport. We’re doing the same kind of strategy to this day. However, now, we have a lot of word-of-mouth business.”

Launched a new service in 2023

Putting a label on Green Fleet, Lobner said, is sometimes challenging, mainly because it offers many different types of service – describing it as sort of a hybrid company.

“When I started the company, and for about two-and-a-half years, all we did was private car service,” he said. “That’s still an offering we have – it’s kind of our top-end offering. The customer is reserving the vehicle just for them and their party, and they’re setting the time for pick-up, and it’s door-to-door service.”

Last summer, however, Lobner said he launched what he calls Green Fleet’s Luxury Shuttle service.

It’s still a door-to-door service and still uses their Tesla SUVs, however, Lobner said prices are discounted by 50% as riders share the vehicle with someone else. 

“So, (Green Fleet) is two things – it’s a private car service, but it’s also a luxury shuttle,” he said. “I had to use the word ‘shuttle’ because we do airport transfers. I wanted people to understand that it’s scheduled service every hour, but there could be someone else outside of their party in the vehicle. Our Luxury Shuttle service for one rider is cheaper than Uber to get from Eau Claire to Minneapolis. Explaining that to people is something that usually gets their attention.”

Lobner said someone may still end up being the only passenger/rider in the vehicle, however, willingness to share still comes with the discount.

“We give the discount up front on our Luxury Shuttle service – whether there’s someone else in the car with you or not, the price doesn’t change,” he said. “We’re giving that discount for someone being willing to let us put someone else in the car with them.”

Lobner said Green Fleet’s model isn’t something he’s seen in other places, but said it’s working well and people enjoy it.

“We’ve found a lot of people are willing to share a car, and they’re happy to get the discount versus paying for a private car,” he said. “But even our private car service is typically less than a taxi would cost to do the same route. We are aggressive on price because we’re trying to be an affordable option for people. But at the same time, it’s a luxury status – so it’s a huge benefit to our customers.”

Scheduled routes mostly all Green Fleet does

Lobner said Green Fleet has scheduled service every hour – with almost everything they do being a scheduled route somewhere.

With the Luxury Shuttle having set times every day, he said it’s often easy to group people from separate parties.

Green Fleet operates from 5 a.m. to midnight every day, minus a handful of days, which are listed at greenfleetec.com.

If you’re being picked up at the airport, Lobner said Green Fleet automatically tracks flights and will be there when you land, even if your flight is running behind. 

Unlike some shuttle services where you have to go to a designated place to be picked up, Lobner said Green Fleet will pick customers up at whatever address they give them. 

“It’s typically at people’s homes, apartments, hotels or possibly a business – we offer a door-to-door service,” he said.

Lobner said Green Fleet is an alternative to shuttle vans or rental cars, or even making the drive themselves, which could come with airport parking fees.

“We’re trying to get people away from all that,” he said. “From an environmental standpoint, even if a person owned their own electric vehicle, we are the more efficient way to travel because in many cases, we’re grouping people who otherwise wouldn’t be grouped together… I think that’s what makes us unique.”

Older clientele prime demographic

Lobner said Green Fleet’s primary clientele is 50-plus, and those folks either book their rides through Green Fleet’s website or via the telephone.

“We thought in the beginning that booking rides through an app might be a good option for people, but it’s younger riders who seem to find that method more appealing, like with Uber or Lyft,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of younger riders. We have a lot of retired couples, business travelers or people who are traveling for some other reason.”

Lobner said he thinks not being app-based is a bonus for Green Fleet because it typically attracts a different clientele.

“We did try an app-based route and were working with a company out of Sweden, but ultimately, we decided to not go that route,” he said.

Expanded service areas in just a few short years

What began as basically a door-to-door shuttle service between the Minneapolis airport and Eau Claire, Lobner said, has expanded exponentially. 

While that route is still their primary one, they now have about 50 different regular routes currently available.

“We’ve also opened our services to other places in Minnesota, like Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud, and Mankato,” he said. “We’ll also do rides to and from La Crosse, Wausau and even Eau Claire to Tomah, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Madison or Chicago.”

Lobner said Green Fleet is trying to “flip the script on the narrative that you can’t do long-distance transportation with electric vehicles.”

“It works for people from a business standpoint, too, because they can keep working if they don’t have to drive,” he said.

Lobner said Green Fleet does the occasional non-standard routes as well.

“Occasionally, someone might need to go to a smaller city, like Appleton or someplace like that,” he said. “We don’t have those kinds of rides listed on our website, but it’s something we can still do.”

New option launched in February

Beginning last week, Lobner said Green Fleet began offering unlimited local ride packages – which require only a one-hour booking notice.

He said it’s designed for business travelers who need to get around when in town on business, but who don’t want to rent a car. 

“Not everybody likes renting a car or booking Uber or Lyfts,” he said. “So, we have weekly or monthly packages we’re offering to those business travelers to give them unlimited rides during normal business hours – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.”

Lobner said the packages are for unlimited rides within a 15-mile radius of Eau Claire.

“I think it’s attractive for some people… and it’s better for the environment,” he said. “It’s not a fit for everyone, and it’ll be a trial for us to see how that market goes and what we can help people out with.”  

Lobner said Green Fleet will also work with companies to put together transportation packages customized for their needs.

He said he also offers consulting services to companies or private individuals looking at potentially switching over to EVs.

Those offerings, he said, are also listed on the Green Fleet website.

Lobner said as the Green Fleet motto says, they truly are “Driving Towards a Sustainable Future.”

He said the sky is the limit as to where the company can go in the future.

TBN
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