WA: Kitsap Transit Tests Electric Bus on Bremerton Routes

June 10--BREMERTON -- Kitsap Transit drivers are putting a borrowed electric bus through the paces this week as the agency prepares to replace its diesel fleet.

The light gray coach with "Zero Emissions" scrawled in green across the sides is being operated on assorted Bremerton routes.

"Our interest is to be able to test a battery bus on our routes, primarily things like hills," Executive Director John Clauson said by phone from Virginia, where he's learning about environmental management systems. "Does that have an effect on how long a bus can travel on a single charge?"

The 42-seat bus can run about 190 miles on a charge, get re-juiced in 4 1/2 to five hours overnight and be ready for the next day, said Hayward Seymore, the agency's vehicle and facilities maintenance director. It's from Chinese company BYD, for Build Your Dreams, which is building the rigs in California. Before arriving here Thursday, the bus got tryouts in Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Yakima.

Kitsap Transit also has been trying out a BYD small sport utility vehicle for the past month.

Electric vehicles are quiet, reduce pollution and can be less expensive to run.

"It'd be a big advantage for us in the Pacific Northwest where our cost for power is quite low," Clauson said. "There is a very large potential for creating savings versus diesel. And the environmental benefits are obvious. That's something we're very interested in."

Kitsap Transit, facing a mandate to replace retiring diesel vehicles with electric ones, will probably buy its first next year, though it's likely to be a hybrid instead of totally electric, Seymore said.

The state Clean Fleet and Fuel Usage Act requires stage agencies to run vehicles, vessels and construction equipment on electricity or biofuel by June 1, 2015. Local governments such as cities, counties and transit agencies would have to comply by June 1, 2018. Existing gas- or diesel-powered equipment can continue to be used until the end of its useful life.

Transit agency maintenance managers have asked for requirements to be changed to allow propane and hybrid vehicles, Seymore said.

Alice Drake drove the BYD bus Tuesday afternoon on the No. 25 Eastside route. Silent when stopped, it whined like a jet when accelerating, gaining pitch with speed.

"It feels like you're driving a trolley in Seattle, the sound of it," who used to do just that before joining Kitsap Transit 12 years ago.

Drake and a handful of other drivers received a couple of hours of training on the bus last week.

"It's still like, 'Wait a minute,'" she said. It's so different. It takes me about 20 minutes to get settled in. I started driving buses when they had stick shifts."

The bus crept up hills, but wasn't much different from her diesel rig, Drake said. It was especially sluggish after making a stop in the middle of a hill on Rickey Road.

Passenger Jackie Slater generally gets off near his home by Olympic College.

"But I've been waiting to ride on this so I'm going to stay on," he said. "I think it's really neat. Change is good."

Rider Robert Bell read it would cost only $10 a day to run the bus.

"That's five people at full fare," he said.

While back East, Clauson will pop down to Greenville, S.C., to look at more electric buses at Proterra Inc. The company has a new 40-foot model that, sporting composites, weighs less than any other transit bus available and offers the highest fuel efficiency on the market, it says. It's the only manufacturer with electric transit buses in revenue service anywhere in the United States.

From this year through 2023, the agency plans to spend $31 million to replace 72 routed and 86 Access buses, Seymore said. Eighty-five percent of the money will come from federal grants, but Kitsap Transit must contribute $4.7 million in matching funds. The agency plans to buy 14 Access buses this year, followed by eight routed and eight Access vehicles each of the next nine years,

The agency already is moving ahead with propane for its smaller vehicles. It has contracted a company to install a propane station at its Charleston Boulevard base. It will add a monitoring system to track fuel usage and then in the next couple of months place an order for seven 15- to 18-passenger Access buses, Seymore said.

Copyright 2014 - Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.