Jefferson Transit to use an electric bus

Agency’s future is with alternative-fuel vehicles

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson Transit Authority is moving toward an all-alternative-fuel fleet, and its first electric bus will start making runs later this summer.

Speaking to The Chamber of Jefferson County on Friday, Jefferson Transit General Manager Nicole Gauthier said the agency received the bus a few weeks ago and is working on completing the charging infrastructure at its headquarters.

“This is our first toe dip into the water of battery electric,” Gauthier said. “We are diving into this with a sense of curiosity, trying to see what we can do, what runs it will be assigned to.”

Driving the electric bus is slightly different than the other biodiesel buses Jefferson Transit Authority (JTA) typically runs, Gauthier said, and drivers are hoping to be trained later this month. The bus has a range of between 190-270 miles, is slightly taller than the biodiesel buses and can be distinguished by its white top.

Once the drivers are trained on the bus, Gauthier said the agency would determine which routes the electric bus will serve.

The addition of the electric bus is part of the agency’s goal of transitioning its entire fleet to alternative fuels. Finance Manager Miranda Nash said Jefferson Transit completed its long-range plan in 2022, a cornerstone of which was the transition to alternative fuels.

“We’re keeping our options open,” Nash said. “We’re curious about other options. We’re looking at what other transit agencies in the state are doing. Diving into different options is not fiscally responsible for us.”

Electric buses come with a higher price tag than the traditional biodiesel buses, Nash said. Biodiesel buses can run between $300,000 and $400,000 while electric buses range between $900,000 and $1.2 million in addition to the charging infrastructure needed to support them.

Fortunately, Jefferson Transit has a healthy cash reserve, Nash said, but most of the agency’s funding comes from local sales tax revenue, which can be volatile and is expected to decline in the near future.

Nash said 74 percent of the JTA’s funding comes from sales tax revenue and 26 percent from federal pass-through grants administered by the state Department of Transportation.

Thanks to recent ballot measures approved by Jefferson County voters, JTA currently receives the maximum amount of sales tax — 0.9 percent — allowed by legislation.

While that support has helped Jefferson Transit, it also means the agency has to look to other sources for additional funding, namely grants.

The agency has been able to add service to some of its routes to better accommodate riders, Gauthier said, with additional times being added to the No. 4, upper Sims Way route, the No. 11, downtown route and the No. 6, tri-area route on Saturdays.

Changes to the schedule are based on customer feedback, Gauthier said, and the agency relies on public input for crafting its routes and schedules.

Currently, almost all of Jefferson Transit’s routes are zero fare. Gauthier said the agency tries to avoid the term “free fare” because Jefferson County residents have paid for the transit services through their sales taxes.

The only route that does charge fares is the Kingston Express route, which connects riders with the ferry service in Kingston to Edmonds.

Fares from that route account for 0.22 percent of JTA’s revenues, Nash said, and while there have been discussions about making the Kingston Express zero fare, current grant conditions don’t allow for that yet.

Gauthier said it’s a condition of certain state grants that all routes, Kingston Express included, are zero fare for youths 18 and younger.

Jefferson Transit is currently looking to hire additional drivers, who start at $26 an hour, Gauthier said, as well as volunteers for the Transit Advisory Group, which provides feedback to the agency. Those interested in either position are encouraged to reach out to Jefferson Transit.

Looking ahead, Gauthier said Jefferson Transit is going to examine how it might be able to do more with its existing assets, whether that means on-demand transit services, smaller vehicles or micro-transit services.

“If all goes well and things stay the same, Jefferson Transit is going to need to look at the services it’s currently providing,” Gauthier said. “We might look at different ways of providing service, or you might only see us when we need to be there instead of on a continuous loop.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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