OCTA launches the first electric buses with rechargeable batteries

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is introducing the first two rechargeable battery electric buses to the county’s OC bus fleet.

The two plug-in electric buses have started operating on routes in various parts of the county, as part of a pilot program of 10 plug-in electric buses that will be tested. The remaining eight buses are expected to be delivered later this year.

“This is another important step toward zero-emissions transportation technology – one that will help bring even cleaner air quality to Orange County,” said OCTA Chairman. , Mark A. Murphy. “This is a great opportunity for us to test the latest technology to ensure we continue to provide the highest level of safe and reliable transit.”

In 2020, OCTA also started operating 10 hydrogen fuel cell electric buses. This new pilot will help determine which technology – or combination of technologies – will work best for Orange County in the future.

The move is part of OCTA’s plan to convert the OC Bus fleet to 100% zero-emissions technology by 2040.

The $10.4 million contract with New Flyer of America, Inc. was approved by the OCTA Board of Directors in 2020 for the 10 plug-in electric buses.

The buses may not be immediately distinguishable from other OC buses for passengers, as they bear the familiar blue, white and orange branding. They are charged via a plug-in port at the front or rear of the bus and the batteries are not visible on board.

Similar to hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, they carry a logo that reads: “Zero emissions for a healthy community”.

OCTA is also working with Southern California Edison to install a new transformer and other infrastructure at OCTA’s Garden Grove base to allow all 10 buses to be recharged, with an option to expand if more plug-in buses are purchased.

OCTA has already gradually transitioned its fleet over the years from diesel-powered buses to clean-burning renewable compressed natural gas (CNG) buses with near-zero emissions engines. The state has set a requirement to transition to zero-emissions transit within the next 20 years.

Two years ago, OCTA approved a zero-emission bus (ZEB) deployment plan, which was submitted to the California Air Resources Board.

The plan is not a commitment to a specific type of technology. OCTA is testing both hydrogen fuel cell electric buses and rechargeable battery electric buses to determine which ZEBs best meet OCTA’s operational, maintenance and cost needs, among other factors.

The 10 plug-in electric buses each measure a standard length of 40 feet and can accommodate up to 76 passengers. The buses have an estimated range of 160 to 200 miles between charges, which will allow them to operate for a full day and be recharged at night at the bus base.

When all 10 buses arrive, five should be running on a new Bravo! limited-stop route between Anaheim and the South Coast Metro in Santa Ana. The other five will operate throughout Orange County.

Hydrogen fuel cell buses, which also create zero emissions, began operating in January 2020, when OCTA opened its hydrogen fueling station in Santa Ana. In total, this represents an investment of $22.9 million. More than half of that funding — $12.5 million — came from California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work to reduce climate change. greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy and improve public health and the environment – ​​especially in disadvantaged regions. communities.

The plug-in buses are funded through a combination of government funding, including through the Solutions for Congested Corridors (SCCP) and State of Good Repair (SGR) programs, and through the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP) administered by Caltrans .

OCTA operates over 500 buses in the regular OC bus system across Orange County. For now, most of these buses run on CNG with near-zero emissions engines, but OCTA is working towards the goal of producing zero emissions.

OCTA will begin phasing in additional zero-emission buses as part of future bus purchases. At the same time, staff will continue to analyze emerging technologies and work with partners to obtain funds for the purchase, operation and maintenance of the buses.

The effort aligns with California’s Innovative Clean Transit Rule, a first-of-its-kind regulation in the United States, which sets a goal for transit agencies to gradually transition to 100-meter bus fleets. % zero emissions by 2040. The Innovative Clean Transit Rule is part of the state’s comprehensive program to help meet California’s air quality and climate goals.

Melvin Z. Madore