City Beat

How the Volkswagen diesel scandal could ease traffic between Sacramento and Davis

Could a trip across the Yolo Causeway get easier because Volkswagen sold dirty diesel cars in California?

A year ago, tarnished automaker Volkswagen agreed to contribute $44 million to increase electric vehicle use in the capital city as part of its punishment for installing software in its diesel cars that allowed them to cheat on smog tests.

On Thursday, two of the Sacramento region’s major bus companies said they are working on a unique joint proposal to use a chunk of those funds to buy up to 10 electric buses and run them on 15-minute intervals over the Yolo Causeway between the UC Davis campus and downtown Sacramento, likely to stop at future employment centers in the downtown railyard.

“This is a real possibility now,” said Sacramento Regional Transit head Henry Li.

Sacramento RT and Yolo Transit officials say they also are talking about proposing electric buses between downtown Sacramento and Sacramento International Airport, ideally on Interstate 5 with a stop in Natomas.

The Davis to downtown proposal in particular is a favorite of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg said he and UC Davis Chancellor Gary May have talked about that possibility as they seek to create stronger connections between the city and the campus.

The talk surfaced Thursday when a subsidiary of Volkswagen announced it is seeking proposals from local transit operators to run a fleet of zero-emission shuttles or buses between key destinations in the Sacramento region.

“This will hopefully be a big step towards connecting the UC Davis campus with Sacramento,” Steinberg said in a written statement. “I look forward to the day – sooner rather than later – when thousands of UC Davis students will have ready, easy and clean transportation options to Sacramento’s urban technology lab.”

Steinberg and May announced in December they had formed a task force to explore the construction of a new technology and education campus in Sacramento, as well as designing new transit links between the city and the Davis campus.

Volkswagen subsidiary Electrify America on Thursday issued a request for proposals from groups that could run fleets of clean shuttles or buses in the Sacramento area.

The effort is part of a $44 million electric vehicle program planned for Sacramento as part of Volkswagen’s 2017 settlement with state and federal clean air regulators. Volkswagen previously agreed to spend more than $15 billion to buy back vehicles and pay fines, and will spend a total of $800 million in California alone over the next decade promoting zero-emission vehicles.

The company also has plans to develop an electric car-sharing service and build car-charging stations in Sacramento.

The new shuttle bus service would be operational by June 2019, according to a new release from Electrify America, which is based in Virginia and is responsible for investing $2 billion nationwide on behalf of Volkswagen to promote zero-emission vehicles.

Li of SacRT said his agency has plans to buy 30 compressed natural gas buses, each for about $200,000. But SacRT and Yolo Transit may propose to Electrify America that it provide money that would allow them to buy some electric buses instead. Those buses cost $400,000 and more.

“We think we are the best partner for EA because we have capital money and operating funds available,” Li said. “This is exciting stuff.”

Terry Bassett, head of Yolo Transit, said his agency and representatives of SacRT and UC Davis are meeting Thursday to discuss their approach to applying for funds.

Working together is “the most practical way of getting over the hurdle,” Bassett said.

SacRT’s Li said an electric shuttle service between the two cities is the main priority. He said the partners also are looking at ways to leverage grant funds for buses that could also run between downtown and the airport.

Currently, Yolo Transit runs limited daily service to the airport. SacRT doesn’t run any buses there. SacRT plans, in the long term, to build a light rail line from downtown to the airport. That project – with a daunting price tag of $1 billion – has been stuck in the planning stages for decades.

Don’t be surprised if sometime soon you hear a voice from above at the light rail station. The new loudspeakers are part of several security changes Sacramento Regional Transit is making.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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