WA: Electric buses gain traction in Walla Walla Valley

Dec. 28, 2023
Walla Walla Valley Transit's electric buses have, on average, outdone its diesel counterparts by roughly three times.

Dec. 26—Walla Walla Valley Transit is on the road to zero-emission public transportation, and officials said the agency will likely reach that goal in 2024 with an all-electric bus fleet.

Valley Transit currently has four electric buses and five diesel that are scheduled to be phased out starting next May.

" Washington State has set ambitious carbon reduction goals, and public transit plays a key role in achieving them," said Angie Peters, Valley Transit's general manager. "By reducing emissions through our shared ride services, we contribute significantly to cleaner air quality, benefiting public health and minimizing pollution."

Each of Valley Transit's electric buses cost about $1 million — about twice the cost of a diesel-fueled bus. But Peters explained that beyond the steep initial costs, the numbers begin to even out when considering the efficiency of an electric bus.

Valley Transit's electric buses have, on average, outdone its diesel counterparts by roughly three times. Their diesel buses average 5.28 miles per gallon, while their electric buses average — calculating in equivalent terms — what would be 16.11 miles per gallon. Diesel buses on average run at $1.81 per mile, whereas electric buses can run at $0.71 per mile, saving Valley Transit more than $1 a mile.

"But I don't think that the primary motivation for going to greener transportation should be about trying to save money," Peters said. "It should be about trying to protect the environment."

Walla Walla Public Schools, which hosts a fleet of 44 buses, has seen similar positive effects with its electric buses.

Earlier this year, the district purchased three electric school buses and, over time, hopes to phase out all of its diesel-powered buses as well.

WWPS Transportation Director John Griffith said the new buses, along with the required equipment to keep them running, were funded by a Department of Ecology grant. He said the district has been consistently applying for grants to fund more electric buses.

"We also have an application for a grant from the EPA," Griffith said earlier this month. "We should be receiving notice sometime between now and January if we were successful. And that's 15 buses. There's also another Department of Ecology grant that's open right now that we will be applying for."

Although the district has had the new buses for only a few months, Griffith said the differences are noteworthy. WWPS has saved more than 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel since September, which translates to 25 fewer tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere.

"By actively mitigating climate change through greenhouse gas reduction, we not only enhance our community's resilience but also ensure compliance with current and future environmental regulations," Peters said. "This commitment showcases Valley Transit's dedication to promoting sustainable and clean transportation solutions for the future."

Valley Transit purchased its first four electric buses in 2019. Peters said the agency's ridership is steadily recovering and returning to pre-pandemic levels, expecting to meet 80% of its 2019 ridership numbers this year.

In 2024, as Valley Transit's diesel-powered buses are phased out, five new electric-powered buses will join the fleet. Peters said the agency's goal was to maintain reliability in the public transit system during the transition, which is expected to span an extended period. The exact timeline is not yet definite.

"Currently, we are collaborating with a consulting firm to develop a more detailed roadmap for achieving our long-term zero-emission goals," Peters said. "This plan will include a robust timeline for complete fleet conversion and research into further diversification of propulsion types to optimize efficiency and sustainability."

Bhavesh Gulrajani, a Whitman College student and a fall reporting intern at the Union-Bulletin, contributed to this story.

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