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Transit Fleet Electrification

Battery Electric Powered Bus 

Battery-electric buses are seen as the future of the industry. While public transit buses in Oregon currently run on diesel, gas and compressed natural gas, many agencies are looking to transition to electric buses. Here are resources to help.


Electric buses:

  • Reduce emissions
  • Reduce fuel costs
  • Reduce maintenance costs
  • Reduce noise
  • Provide better health outcomes for communities and transit employees

Some states, including Washington and California, have run electric buses at various transit agencies for years. Oregon is now starting to move in this direction. The first electric buses in the state are due to arrive at Lane Transit District in Eugene in 2017.


About the impact on carbon emissions

Graph of carbon emissions impact in Oregon 

enlarge graph

source: Oregon Department of Environmental Quality


The graph above shows carbon intensity of fuels, measured by grams of CO2e per megajoule. Carbon emissions contribute to climate change, so Oregon’s goal is to reduce them.
While electric buses produce no tailpipe emissions, some greenhouse gases are emitted during the production of the electricity used to charge the vehicle battery or other electricity storage device.  These electricity-production emissions are sometimes referred to as the “long tailpipe”. How the electricity is created determines the amount of long tailpipe emissions produced by an electric bus. 
Electricity derived solely from hydropower (supplied by Bonneville Power Administration/BPA, on far right) is almost carbon-free. The general electric mix in Oregon includes both hydropower and coal, which explains its higher carbon intensity. Learn more about electricity sources and emissions at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Most buses in Oregon currently run on diesel or gas fuel (almost identical carbon intensities). A few transit agencies have some compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in their fleets. Buses of all types also have manufacturing-related climate impacts, which are not represented on the graph.
About the impact on fuel and maintenance costs
Cost savings from electric buses vary with factors such as the terrain being traveled, the climate, the operator’s skill level and the local price of electricity. Foothill T​ransit in Southern California reports saving $225,000 on fuel over the lifetime of each of their electric buses compared to traditional buses.
According to calculations by the US Energy Department, the cost of fueling a vehicle with electricity in Oregon would be equivalent to $.97 per gallon, while the cost of fueling a vehicle with diesel fuel is typically $2.28 per gallon.
In addition, the maintenance cost of an electric bus is projected to be $120,000 to $210,000 less than the maintenance cost of a diesel bus over a 12-year lifecycle according to an Electric Bus Analysis for New York City Transit.
About the impact on noise pollution
According to a 2017 report by King County Metro, shifting to a battery-electric bus can "reduce noise pollution to levels similar to and less than a passenger vehicle." For comparison, a diesel bus while accelerating (76–81 decibels) is nearly as loud as a garbage truck (80–84 decibels). Noise pollution is of particular concern on dense urban routes that have frequent starts and stops.
About Oregon's goals
The Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative is ODOT's effort to help Oregon meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 75 percent below 1990 levels, by 2050. The Oregon Global Warming Commission published a 2017 report noting we are not reaching the goal. To the contrary, our state’s transportation-caused emissions are increasing, specifically due to the use of gasoline and diesel. Electric buses replacing diesel buses can help to turn this problem around.

The drafted vision of the Oregon Public Transportation Plan, or OPTP, states Environmental Sustainability to be Goal 7, “moving people with efficient, low-emission vehicles, reducing greenhouse gases and other pollutants”.  The OPTP will guide Oregon’s transit development for the next 20 years.  
Map of US ZEB.jpg 
The five largest electric bus fleets in the United States (with ten or more electric buses) include:
  • IndyGo in Indianapolis, Indiana
  • TARC in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
  • Foothill Transit in Southern California was an early adopter, and plans to have a 100 percent electric fleet by 2030. 
  • Antelope Valley Transit Authority, outside of Los Angeles, which is unique in rapidly transitioning its entire fleet to be Full Green By 2018. Much of the electricity that fuels its buses will be generated by football-field-sized solar arrays.
Row of solar panel array 

South Metro Area Regional Transit, or SMART, will receive funding from the 2017 LoNo grant program​ to purchase 2 battery electric buses in 2019 for fixed routes servicing the City of Wilsonville, Oregon. By replacing aging diesel buses with Proterra 35' E2 electric buses, SMART will increase overall fleet efficiency, reduce emissions, improve ride quality, and develop the relevant skills and experience necessary to enable future expansion of zero-emission buses.

King County Metro in Seattle, Washington did a feasibility study published in March 2017. The study resulted in a plan for King County to electrify most of its fleet of 1,928 buses as its diesel buses age out. (A portion of its fleet has long been electric trolleys.)

In Oregon, the first transit agency to run battery-electric buses will be Lane Transit District, or LTD, in Eugene. LTD expects its first five electric buses to arrive in summer 2017, with five more to follow in 2018. Its charging stations were installed months ahead of time.

TriMet in Portland plans to order its first five electric buses in summer 2017 and put them into service in fall 2018. Both LTD and TriMet received LONO 2016 grants from the Federal Transit Administration.

Josephine Community Transit in Grants Pass, Oregon, has secured funding for two electric buses to be purchased in 2019. Congestion Mitigation Air Quality, or CMAQ, is the federal funding source.

​The following chart identifies some sources of funding for electric buses:

Chart of Funding Sources for Electric Buses

The purchase cost for one electric bus is between $575,000 - $750,000, which is $200,000 - $300,000 more than a traditional diesel bus.

The extra cost lies in the batteries. If the transit agency leases the batteries when buying its electric bus, the purchase cost is comparable to diesel. The savings in fuel and maintenance provide the cash flow for the lease payments, which one vendor quotes at $35,000 per year.

 Electric bus battery compartment


Another cost-saving strategy is to convert existing diesel buses to electric buses. This is an FTA-eligible expense and can be faster and cheaper than waiting for a diesel bus to age out at 12-14 years, and replacing the entire bus. 

The relevant wording of the circular is below:

FTA Circular 5010.1E page I-22    

(137) Rolling Stock Repowering: Rolling stock repowering involves replacing a vehicle’s propulsion system, including replacing a propulsion system with a propulsion system of a different type (e.g., replacing a diesel engine with an electric battery propulsion system). Rolling stock repowering is permitted for buses that have met at least 40 percent of their useful life; in which case, it must be designed to permit the bus to meet its useful life requirements. Rolling stock repowering is permitted as part of a rebuild; in which case, it must extend the useful life by at least 4 years.

Complete text of FTA Circular 5010.1E


This information has been gleaned from fleet managers in the Network Group who have collectively supervised more than a million hours of revenue service of electric buses since 2009. An electric bus is frequently referred to as a zero-emission bus or “ZEB”.

  • Getting the electric bus is the easy part. Put careful attention into the charging infrastructure, which is often more challenging.
  • Build your relationship early on with your electrical utility; they are your new fuel supplier. Call up your local utility representative early in your planning process. 
  • Electric buses run more quietly than the average conversation - much quieter than diesel. However, fleet managers have not reported any accidents due to people not hearing them approaching.
  • Can you run electric buses at temperatures below freezing? Yes, many transit agencies do this.
  • Communicate early and often with your unions, both mechanics and operators/drivers. Even your first zero emission bus (ZEB) will impact their work. Assume that they will resist change, as most people do. Accurate information, trust-building, and especially training will help them succeed in their work, and will help your agency succeed in electrifying.
  • The miles per kilowatt (kw) you get with your ZEB will vary with temperature and terrain, but especially with the skill of the driver. A light foot means more miles per kw. Some drivers become competitive around how efficiently they drive.
  • Prior to deploying your ZEB, engage the first responders in your community (i.e., fire and police). Train them on where and how to cut the electricity if they arrive on an accident scene. 
  • Plug-in (conductive) charging, also known as overnight charging, is the least expensive, both infrastructure-wise and fuel-wise. Electricity is the cheapest at night, when few people are using it. 
  • On-route charging, i.e., ten-minute top-offs at transit centers, is more expensive, both infrastructure-wise and fuel-wise, than plug-in charging. But it can be ideal for close-in routes.
  • "Expect everyone who comes within 20 feet of the electric bus to ask for a raise”.  Said partly in jest, this illustrates that electric voltage can make people nervous. Thorough training of staff is the key to success.
  • Do your pilot project with your initial electric buses, and get comfortable with the technology. Then plan thoroughly for as many ZEB’s as you plan to acquire long-term, building the needed charging infrastructure all at once, rather than piecemeal.


Patty McNeil
Capital Program Coordinator


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