Transit eyes options for electric buses

Board member calls for workshop in 2022

PORT TOWNSEND — Battery electric buses — BEBs — are a possibility for Jefferson Transit, especially if the agency can obtain a healthy dose of federal funding.

That was the topic of discussion during the Jefferson Transit Authority’s August board meeting, in which the Kirkland-based Transpo Group delivered a report on the viability of an electrified fleet.

The outlay would be large — some $20.2 million in total lifecycle costs for capital, fuel and maintenance would mean a 40 percent premium for transitioning to BEBs, Transpo Group engineer Paul Sharman told the board.

But the maintenance costs of electric buses average 58 cents per mile, in contrast with the 80 cents per mile for Jefferson Transit’s existing diesel vehicles, Sharman said.

That’s a 27 percent savings before turning to potential funding sources, he said.

“There’s big money in the new federal [infrastructure] package for this, so you can expect that premium to come down quite a bit,” he said.

That bill, yet to pass the U.S. House of Representatives, contains $7.5 billion for zero-emissions buses and ferries. The Department of Energy and the Federal Transit Administration are also potential funders of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure across the country, Sharman added.

Electric buses have the power to reduce Jefferson Transit’s carbon emissions by 96 percent, the Transpo Group report noted. These are operating emissions and do not include those from manufacturing.

“I’m wondering what the pathway is to some of that federal funding,” said board member and Jefferson County commissioner Heidi Eisenhour.

“It would be great to transition our fleet,” especially as diesel buses come to the end of their life span, she said.

Board member and county commissioner Kate Dean called for a workshop in 2022 dedicated to the question of zero-emissions buses. Such a meeting could happen after electric vehicle battery technology has improved, making a switch to BEBs more practical.

With current battery capacities, most of Jefferson Transit’s “driver blocks,” the shifts during which drivers cover multiple routes, cover so many miles that they would need to stop and recharge. But with battery technology developing rapidly, Sharman and colleague Michael Broe said, that could change in a positive direction.

Also during the Jefferson Transit meeting, the board members received an update on the new Kingston Express route. Plans are moving forward for a morning and afternoon departure, said mobility operations manager Miranda Nash; the route will have four stops between Port Townsend and the Kingston ferry terminal, where riders can board the Washington State ferry to Edmonds or the Kitsap Transit foot ferry to downtown Seattle.

The planned full fare is $8 each way; the reduced fare will be $6, Nash said, adding that since Jefferson Transit has been able to hire two new drivers this summer, she’s “feeling more confident” that Oct. 25 will be the start date.

Information about the Kingston Express and other routes, meetings and documents, including the 2021-2026 Transit Development Plan, can be found at jeffersontransit.com.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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