Sun Tran set to launch five electric buses into service

Oct. 19, 2021
The 40-foot GILLIG buses will enter service this fall and make Sun Tran the first transit company in the state to deploy fully electric buses.

Sun Tran in Tucson, Ariz., is readying the newest additions to its fleet for service: Five, 40-foot GILLIG battery electric buses. The buses are part of the first fully electric transit bus deployment in the state.

The new buses were funded in part through the Federal Transit Administration’s Low-No Emission Grant program and follow a one-year lease of the transit’s agency’s first electric bus, which was piloted in May 2020.

“Sun Tran is excited to introduce electric buses in the community,” said Sun Tran General Manager Steve Spade. “These buses represent cutting edge technology in the transit industry focused on energy self-sufficiency and a cleaner environment.”

Sun Tran’s current fleet mix includes compressed natural gas, hybrid-electric and biodiesel vehicles, but the goal is to transition to a zero-emission fleet.

“Sun Tran is committed to building a sustainable fleet that contributes to a cleaner environment,” said Spade. “Currently Sun Tran purchases both CNG and battery-electric buses. Based on the current fleet carbon neutral plan, all-diesel buses will be replaced with either CNG or electric by 2028.”

The community was invited to see the new electric buses for themselves during a Sept. 30 event where attendees toured the bus and learned about area sustainability projects.

“Electrifying our city’s vehicle and transit fleet is an important step to make our city more climate resilient,” said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. “Electric transit buses will benefit all members of our community and help reduce transit tailpipe emissions. These emissions are the primary cause of harmful ozone levels, an issue that disproportionally affects low-income families.”

Sun Tran credits Tucson Electric Power (TEP) as being a steadfast supporter and past work advancing the Sun Link streetcar and all-electric Sabino Canyon tram. TEP provided a no-cost electrical system upgrade to Sun Tran, as well as purchased and installed the five charging stations for the new buses at Sun Tran’s north bus yard. The yard will accommodate charging for up to 10 buses.

“At TEP, we like to say that we're energized about electric transportation. We're really proud to be part of leading the way to make this major shift in our community,” said TEP CEO Susan Gray. “The [battery electric buses] will get greener every year as we continue to add renewable resources to charge these buses.”

RATP Dev USA CEO Arnaud Legrand offered his congratulations to Sun Tran on the introduction of the electric buses. RAPT Dev USA currently manages services for Sun Tran fixed-route bus, Sun Van ADA paratransit and the Sun Link Streetcar.

“The introduction of electric buses in Tucson is a step toward a cleaner environment and a sustainable energy future,” said Legrand. “Your creativity to assemble this cooperative venture, and your willingness to embrace cutting edge technology are examples of the values of the Tucson community.”

Sun Tran leased the electric bus for the pilot project from GILLIG and the five low-floor buses from the manufacturer will enter service this fall and be joined by five additional buses on order in 2022.

“Since 2005, Sun Tran has chosen GILLIG to provide clean-energy transit for their communities,” said Bill Fay, GILLIG vice president of sales. “We’re proud to provide these new zero-emission buses. They’re going to provide exceptional performance and environmentally friendly public transportation that’s reliable, safe and quiet in operation.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.