County transit officials are seeking a $30 million grant to fund the replacement of 115 aging gas-powered SamTrans buses and minivans nearing the end of their useful life.
While still interested in eventually considering electric vehicle technology, SamTrans is moving to swap a large portion of its nearly 320 full-size bus fleet with newer diesel equipment.
The SamTrans Board of Directors agreed last week to offer more than $7.2 million in local funds to match the $30.2 million it’s seeking from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
If awarded the grant, SamTrans plans to replace 60 Gillig buses built in 2003 and 55 NABI articulated buses manufactured in 2002. The funds would also support replacing paratransit cutaway buses, replacing minivans and provide subsidies for operations related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a staff report.
The Federal Transit Administration’s guidelines call for buses to be changed out every 12 years prompting the local agency to seek support for its efforts, SamTrans spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said in an email.
“It’s important for SamTrans to change its equipment because the vehicles are at the end of their useful life and we want to ensure that we have safe, reliable vehicles out on the road for the public,” Bartholomew said.
SamTrans has been considering moving toward purchasing electric buses, but the newer technology has its drawbacks such as issues with whether the batteries could last an entire route, as well as significant startup costs for charging stations.
It needs to replace a portion of its current fleet and opting for new diesel-powered buses doesn’t rule out the possibility it may go electric in the future.
“We still haven’t made a determination on electric buses. We’re still discussing the idea, but it is a different type of technology that’s more expensive and not readily available,” Bartholomew said.
The board discussed EVs in August and noted it would continue to keep tabs on the industry that’s anticipated to become more affordable while making technological strides. Currently, SamTrans spends about $2 million a year on diesel fuel for its buses. A typical clean-diesel bus gets about 4.25 miles per gallon while a hybrid diesel-electric gets about 5 to 6.5 miles per gallon. Manufacturers estimate an all-electric bus could get between 10 to 20 miles per gallon — a huge savings that over time could account for the initial investment in new equipment, officials said previously.
But startup costs such as charging stations as well as route limitations due to existing battery power have officials questioning whether the current technology is a feasible alternative for SamTrans and its various routes.
SamTrans is committed to finding sustainable transit solutions and invested in replacing some of its outdated fleet with 25 diesel-electric hybrid buses starting in 2013. That purchase was part of a $32.2 million contract to buy 62 buses that were expected to save $3 million in fuel costs over 12 years, according to SamTrans.
In the interim, SamTrans seeks to continue to upgrade its existing diesel fleet that provides nearly 1 million bus rides each month.
Of the $7.2 million the board committed to matching, a portion will come from state Proposition 1 funds and bridge toll revenue, as well as local sales taxes, according to the report.
It will likely take several months before SamTrans hears whether it receives a piece of the MTC’s estimated $409 million federally-funded grant pool. If successful, the new buses may come into service sometime in 2017, according to Bartholomew.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106