Oregon transit fleets speed up efforts to electrify

ODOT lays it out clearly: “Battery-electric buses are seen as the future of the industry.” Electrifying transit will help solve what the Oregon Global Warming Commission reported earlier this year: the key reason Oregon is not reaching its climate goals is the transportation sector’s ongoing dependency on diesel and gas.

In addition to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, electric buses are cheaper to operate and maintain. According to the US Department of Energy, the cost of fueling a vehicle with electricity in Oregon is equivalent to $.97 per gallon, while diesel fuel is typically $2.28 per gallon. Maintenance costs are significantly lower too. An electric bus costs $120,000 – $210,000 less to maintain than a diesel bus over a 12-year lifecycle, according to an Electric Bus Analysis for New York City Transit.

Currently, all public transit buses in Portland run on diesel (blended with up to 20% biodiesel) or gas. So do most buses throughout Oregon.* Happily, several transit agencies are addressing this problem.

South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART) in Wilsonville just became the first Oregon transit agency to commit to transitioning to a zero emissions fleet. The agency provides service to over 23,000 residents and offers free bus rides within the city. SMART is working toward introducing the new electric buses in its fleet in 2019.

Lane Transit District in Eugene has ordered five battery-electric buses. Its first two electric buses arrived recently, with three more to arrive soon. The agency projects it will save $42,550 for the five buses in equivalent fuel costs each year compared to its diesel-electric hybrid models.

TriMet is adding four electric buses to its fleet. These new buses boast the fuel efficiency equivalent of 24 miles per gallon, compared to about 6 mpg for their current diesel fleet. And battery-electric buses feature regenerative braking, a process where a battery is charged every time the driver brakes. That energy can be used immediately or stored in the battery for later use. TriMet says they are in the early stages of plan development for a possible transition to all-electric engines.

Electric buses are not just for the big urban players. Josephine Community Transit in Grants Pass is preparing to order its first electric buses. Sunset Empire Transit District in Astoria isn’t far behind.

Going electric is not only a win-win from a cost and climate perspective. Moving from diesel to electric also improves community health. Diesel exhaust is filled with known carcinogens. Every day, soot, smog-forming pollutants and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene are emitted by gas and diesel – triggering asthma, heart attacks and other health emergencies. Climate change makes many of these conditions worse. To the nearly half-million Oregonians with lung disease, the status quo on transportation pollution is unacceptable. That’s especially true for the 71,000 kids with asthma, too many of whom wind up in emergency rooms. Low-income communities and communities of color living near major roadways and with decreased access to medical care are especially vulnerable to the impacts of transportation pollution.

Oregon’s Clean Fuels Standard rewards companies for utilizing the cleanest fuels, making it even easier for fleets to go electric. The Standard requires out-of-state oil companies to gradually reduce the carbon pollution from their gasoline and diesel. Oil companies can either blend in low-carbon biofuels with gas/diesel or invest in other proven technologies, like electric vehicles.

When a company invests in refueling a cleaner-burning fleet, it can qualify as a Clean Fuels Standard credit generator, enabling it to receive an additional source of revenue for making the switch. These funds can be utilized to offset the upfront costs associated with going electric. Grants can also be a helpful source of funding to offset those upfront costs, as noted on ODOT’s handy list of electric bus funding sources.

Oregon is already experiencing the benefits of going electric, from cleaner air and healthier communities, to decreased costs for fleets and their riders. And really, the electric revolution has just begun. Oregon Environmental Council and its partners are working to increase sustainable transportation throughout the state, and preserve programs like the Clean Fuels Standard that incentivize electric vehicle use. Join us: become a member today and your support can help us create healthier communities.

*The exceptions are in Salem, Medford and Wilsonville, where a portion of each bus fleet runs on compressed natural gas.

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