By Phoebe Denton

Chris Harrell, a Senior Political Science major, does more than study human behavior – they influence it. As one of the leaders of the campus student union, Harrell has led efforts to win UVM’s divestment from fossil fuels, co-managed political campaigns, organized in local efforts on policing and racial justice reform, and championed the formation of a student union.

But it is Harrell’s work with Sustainable Transportation Vermont that has most recently put them in the spotlight. Along with a team of students and Burlington City Councilor Jack Hanson (UVM Class of 2016) – Harrell won a $2500 grant to promote fare free public transit from the Energy Action Network (EAN).

“How do we get people out of their cars and onto the bus? One of the most data-backed solutions we have is fare-free transit,” Harrell told a crowd of attendees at EANs’ annual conference, held virtually.

For equity and environmental reasons, making public transit free to all users is the right thing to do, Harrell said. Currently transportation in Vermont is responsible for 45 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most of that comes from personal vehicle use – cars, and increasingly, SUVs and pickup trucks. Free public transportation has been shown to attract new riders as well as make transportation more accessible for those who can’t afford it.

“If ridership increased and Vermont saw full ridership levels, we would see an 80% reduction in carbon emissions per person,” Harrell said.

The Energy Action Network (EAN) works to achieve Vermont’s 90% renewable by 2050 total energy commitment and to significantly reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions in ways that create a more just, thriving, and sustainable future for Vermonters.

 This summer, EAN invited organizations to submit pitches for promising opportunities to help Vermont rapidly, cost-effectively, and equitably reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas pollution.  STVT was one of ten chosen to present. Following presentations, EAN members voted on the proposals, clocking in STVT at number five, winning the organization a $2,500 grant to promote fare free transit

“We appreciate the importance of your work,” wrote EAN project manager Carolyn Wesley, “because of the strong equity component and existing leadership the proposal deserves funding.”

Harrell, Hanson and the Sustainable Transportation Vermont team plan to put the money to work, using policy levers to change human behavior one rider at a time.

Sustainable Transportation Vermont is an advocacy and research organization founded by UVM students committed to reducing transportation’s social and environmental impacts. Farrell is working as an intern with the organization this fall.

Phoebe Denton is a senior Environmental Studies student pursuing a senior capstone writing about sustainable transportation and livable communities.


Phoebe Elizabeth Denton
Energy Action Network News