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Transit Authority Test Drives Zero-Emission Buses

A new battery-powered bus sits in the MTS bus yard, Oct. 22, 2019.

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: A new battery-powered bus sits in the MTS bus yard, Oct. 22, 2019.

The Metropolitan Transit System next month will start deploying a small fleet of electric buses on San Diego streets as part of a pilot program testing the next phase of green transportation.

MTS has purchased six battery-powered buses from the Canadian company New Flyer and plans to start integrating them into passenger service by the end of November.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The new vehicles come in green and are much quieter than the existing fleet of buses, which are powered by compressed natural gas. Mike Wygant, MTS chief operating officer of bus services, said next year the agency will expand its fleet with two more battery-powered buses and two buses that use hydrogen fuel cell technology.

"This is just the next step of us looking into the most cost effective way to put the most environmentally friendly vehicle on the road," Wygant said.

The 18-month pilot program comes at a cost of $12.5 million, which includes $900,000 for each bus and new charging infrastructure. It was paid for with a mix of the agency's own capital budget and state grant funding.

Reported by Andrew Bowen , Video by Andi Dukleth

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During the pilot, each bus will gather detailed data on everything from average speed to the length of time doors open to let passengers on and off. Bus drivers will also receive training on how to drive as efficiently as possible to maximize their range. A single charge is expected to power 150 miles of travel.

Large transit agencies in California will have to start gradually increasing their purchase of zero-emission buses by 2023 under new regulations approved by the state Air Resources Board last year. The state wants every bus in California to be electric by 2040.

MTS CEO Paul Jablonksi resisted state-mandated purchasing of zero-emission buses when he led the California Transit Association, which lobbies on behalf of transit agencies. The association argued that agencies would have to cut services if the state forced them purchase electric buses, which cost twice as much as those powered by natural gas.

Wygant said transit agencies across the country are experimenting with zero-emission bus pilot programs, and that the growing demand is helping fuel technological innovation.

But, he said, the technology has a long way to go before the electric buses will adequately replace the gas-powered fleet. Right now, it takes more time and more space to recharge an electric bus than it does to refuel a gas bus.

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