Memphis Rideshare reduces emissions and builds community by taking cars off the road

Like many large cities, Memphis sees its fair share of traffic. Sprawling 324 square-miles, the city also draws commuters from surrounding communities, including those in Mississippi and Arkansas. The major east-west artery of Interstate 40 with its ceaseless flow of cars and freight trucks contribute to the congestion and a decline in air quality.

With our status as one of the most critical shipping, transportation, and logistics hub in the country, Memphis may be doom to heavy commercial traffic, there are efforts being made to limit individual commuters.

The Memphis Area Rideshare is an prime example. The program is a partnership between the Shelby County Health Department and Enterprise Rent-a-Car through the company's Commute with Enterprise program.

“On average, the Memphis Area Rideshare program comprises 300 commuters and 60 vanpools, more than 40 of which serve commuters to and from the Memphis VA Medical Center,” said Zareema Maxwell, Commute Account Executive for Enterprise.

In addition to the VA hospital, stops include like the Federal Correctional Institute near Shelby Farms and Atara Biotherapeutics. The service is available for employers and employees, and does not serve patients of the VA hospital or people visiting the correctional institution. 

Riders are matched by neighborhood, work location, and hours.

“By keeping all of those vehicles off of the road, we are saving 13,413 gallons of fuel. So, you can imagine that’s pretty substantial," said Kasia Smith-Alexander, local administrator over the Rideshare program.

"For the carbon footprint we are looking at emissions. We are reducing 5.05 tons of carbon emissions out of the air, which is tremendous in Shelby County,” said Smith-Alexander. 

Companies can sign up at to offer vanpooling for its employees. Individuals can apply to be connected with other share rides in their commute range.

The Shelby County Health Department also offers other commuter programs like the Emergency Ride Home program, which gives several free taxi rides home per year if, for example, your car won’t start or a scheduled ride falls through.

Nationwide, the Commute with Enterprise program reduces carbon emissions by 1.1 billion pounds annually. Introduced by Enterprise in 1994, the program is available in over 75 cities. It provides transportation for an estimated 67,000 commuters and frees up a similar number of parking spots.

“For an average commute of 80 miles per day, ridesharing can save individuals up to $8,700 per year by reducing the costs of tolls, gas, vehicle maintenance and depreciation,” said Maxwell.

Last year, the Shelby County Health Department’s program was recognized by the Tennessee Department of Transportation for its effectiveness. It was one of seven winners of the Sustainable Transportation Award.

“It’s a big deal because it has helped us to get that information out as to why it is so important—that it does work for people carpooling to and from [work],” said Smith-Alexander.

Nominees are chosen by TDOT. All programs must be local and operating in the state for the past five years. Other winners included the City of Knoxville, the City of Lebanon, Weakley County Schools and Walk Bike Nashville.

Smith-Alexander said the recognition will also help the health department approach the EPA and other agencies for more funding, advertising help, awareness building, and other needs.

“That recognition does carry weight for us,” said Smith-Alexander.

Under the partnership, the health department leases the vehicles while Enterprise maintains the fleet. To help cover costs, each vanpool receives a monthly $500 subsidy from a Federal Highway Administration grant.

“If there are any problems—oil change, anything like that—then Enterprise helps us. It also gives them an opportunity to broaden their brand,” said Smith-Alexander.
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Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.