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Marin County, Calif., to Buy More Electric Buses After Pilot

The purchase of the additional buses follows a 2018 pilot that found the buses were reliable on their routes and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, despite having less range than diesel-powered counterparts.

by Will Houston, The Marin Independent Journal / October 12, 2020
Shutterstock/Scharfsinn

(TNS) — Marin Transit is making a multimillion-dollar purchase to advance its goal of a fully electric bus fleet by 2040.

The agency’s board voted Monday to approve a $4 million purchase of four all-electric buses from Gillig LLC. Each bus is 40 feet long and has 34 seats, including two for riders with wheelchairs.

The purchase follows a test run of the two electric buses Marin Transit acquired in 2018. The results of the pilot test found the buses to be reliable on their routes and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but they had far less range and higher power costs compared to their diesel-powered counterparts.

The buses could reliably travel about 120 miles per day on a single charge, though 145 miles was the average distance, according to agency staff.

“I believe it covers about 40% of our routes,” Marin Transit analyst Anna Penoyar told the agency’s board of directors this week, addressing the 120-mile range, “and our longest routes go up to 300 miles a day. So definitely not quite the range capacity to replace our whole fleet yet, but technology is constantly improving.”

The purchase is being covered with about $2.7 million in Federal Transit Administration grants, $1.1 million in Caltrans grants and $283,715 in local funding from the Measure AA sales tax.

The buses from are set for delivery in December 2021. They will replace three 60-foot, diesel-powered buses.

Currently, the agency’s fleet consists of 39 hybrid buses, 17 narrow-bodied diesel buses, 19 gasoline shuttle buses and 39 gasoline paratransit and on-demand shuttles, according to Penoyar. Marin Transit’s electrification plan aims to replace 31% of its fleet with electric vehicles by 2030, with more purchases beginning in 2025.

Marin Transit estimates replacing 28 buses would cost $28 million, though Penoyar says it’s difficult to estimate the price beyond that point.

“Because prices are changing, and there is a wide range of potential costs for infrastructure and charging, we don’t currently have a good estimate for the cost of converting the entire fleet,” she wrote.

Marin Transit and other public agencies throughout the state are required to have fully electric, zero-emission fleets by 2040 under a California Air Resources Board rule that was approved in December 2018.

The transportation sector makes up 52% of Marin County’s greenhouse gas emissions, with about 744,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide released in 2018, according to the most recent data from the Marin Climate & Energy Partnership.

Preliminary data for 2019 show that transportation emissions dropped by another 2% to 3%, which Christine O’Rourke, the organization’s sustainability coordinator, attributes to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“Emissions from buses is a small part of overall transportation emissions, so it’s also critical that people start driving electric vehicles as well,” O’Rourke said Wednesday.

Marin Transit’s two electric buses reduced emissions by nearly 5.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide and one-tenth of a metric ton of the more potent nitrogen oxide between July 2019 and June 2020, according to Penoyar. The drawdown is equivalent to the carbon sequestration of a 7-acre forest in a single year, Penoyar said, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While the pilot test found the electric buses to be reliable and fuel-efficient, they cost more to operate per mile compared to diesel-powered buses. The average cost for electric buses was $1.09 per mile over the year, compared to an average of $0.68 per mile for the diesel buses.

“This is largely due to the structure of energy charges,” Penoyard told the board. “Electric utilities include a demand charge, which is based on the maximum amount of energy draw at any one time during the billing month. The more the buses operate during that month, the more this demand charge is diluted across the number of miles.”

Supervisor Damon Connolly, a Marin Transit board member, called the pilot test results “promising.”

Supervisor Kate Sears, also a board member, said the pilot test might not be so informative given that only two buses were used.

“It’ll be interesting moving forward as we acquire more vehicles to really get more information about the fuel costs,” Sears said.

There will be other costs with converting the fleet, including charging stations and places to store them. The agency has funded a $6.6 million project to purchase and upgrade a lot at 600 Rush Landing in Novato that will include charging stations.

“However, space there is limited and Marin Transit will need additional land to eventually convert the entire fleet,” Penoyar told the board.

©2020 The Marin Independent Journal, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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