Sacramento transit agency to put electric buses to the test

Sacramento Regional Transit officials revealed this week they are considering replacing their gas buses with electric ones, but first, they want to do a little experiment.

General Manager Mike Wiley said RT expects to buy 10 electric buses and two charging stations initially, and put them to the test on Stockton Boulevard, the longest and busiest bus route in the city, to see if they hold up to the rigors of daylong route running.

Electric buses may prove to be cheaper to operate than gas-powered buses, and better for the environment, but they are more expensive to buy, Wiley said.

The Stockton line, which runs from the Florin Road area in the south to Eighth and F streets downtown “is our most challenging route,” Wiley said. “In the summer, the air conditioning is running, it has standing loads all day, it’s stop and go.”

The pilot project is likely two years away. Wiley said RT first must track down funding sources for the expected $10 million cost for the initial buses and charging stations.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, who is Regional Transit board chairman, said the agency potentially can help finance the purchase of electric buses by tapping into state cap-and-trade funds earmarked for emission reductions in disadvantaged communities.

Officials from RT and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District took a brief test ride through downtown streets this week on an electric bus produced by Proterra, a South Carolina-based electric vehicle manufacturer that is promoting its buses to transit agencies.

Proterra vice president of sales Matt Horton said the 40-foot-long buses are equipped with fast-charge technology that delivers a full charge to the bus battery in 10 minutes. “You can charge it faster than your cell phone,” Horton said.

Buses are designed to travel 30 miles or more before the next charge, Horton said. Pedestrians and others nearby can hear the bus’s electric motor, its air compressor and the sound of the tires on the pavement, but, other than that, “it’s incredibly quiet for a transit bus,” he said.

Wiley said he likes the idea of running a fleet of buses that does not consume gas, but his agency will want to know first whether the buses really would be cheaper to operate than RT’s compressed natural gas buses. “We won’t advocate something that is more expensive operationally.”

RT will have a few more years to watch the technology develop, he said. The agency is taking delivery of 30 new natural gas buses in January, 54 more in 2016 and 12 in 2017. The most likely moment for a major switch-over would be in 2020, Wiley said, when more than 100 RT buses will need to be replaced.