Constructing Transit of the Future
Local transit agencies prepare for 100% zero-emissions fleets by 2040
What comes to mind when you think about the future of public transportation? Is it self-driving buses moving seamlessly along city routes? A plethora of transit options, each as convenient and accessible as the other? Or maybe it is simply solving the first mile, last mile dilemma. One thing is certain, clean energy will be powering public buses in California. State regulation passed in 2018 requires public transit agencies to transition to 100 percent zero-emissions bus fleets by 2040, and transit agencies across the region are making moves to advance how we get around.
Yuba-Sutter Transit’s new $40 million facility and community spark
We start in the northern part of the region with Yuba-Sutter Transit where the agency’s leadership envisions a bright future for the organization. This summer the agency announced the purchase of a 19.7-acre property located on Avondale Avenue in Linda. Their planned $40 million Next Generation Transit Maintenance, Operations and Administration Facility will house their electric bus fleet and have room to grow. This is a huge milestone for the organization, which determined that their current location could no longer support future charging infrastructure and a growing fleet. Plus, a Caltrans project scheduled to be completed in 2025 will significantly impact the current facility.
The new location used to be an industrial site, abandoned, and clearly neglected. “The location has historically been a challenge for the neighborhood,” shared Keith Martin, executive director of Yuba-Sutter Transit. “Redevelopment will help the greater community.” Two routes already connect to the location, so it will be easy for riders to access transit services once built. And with zero emissions, the facility won’t negatively impact the neighborhood with poor air quality that results from burning fossil fuels. There is an opportunity for the location to be a catalyst for new corridor investments and become a place that will do more than just store and charge buses.
While electric buses need more room to charge and store than their internal combustion counterparts, the almost 20-acre lot is more space than what Yuba-Sutter Transit initially needs to operate its 51-bus fleet. Martin envisions co-development opportunities to bring in shared vehicles or charging to the facility. Another idea is to build a solar farm that would allow the agency to be self-reliant, and would support bus charging if there are disruptions in power. He is open to all new ideas. Whatever the property is used for, it will depend largely on available funding such as new grants. Martin dreams of a transit facility driven by a community vision: “We get to figure out what we want to be when we grow up and where our system is going over the next 10–20 years.”
Roseville Transit’s transformation reflects city-wide effort
In Placer County, Roseville Transit’s conversion coincides with the City of Roseville’s commitment to transition all the jurisdiction’s vehicles, big and small, to zero emissions. The city’s business plan started in 2018, with a formal approval by the City Council in 2020. “So far people are pretty positive that we’re moving toward cleaner options for vehicles,” shared Helen Dyda, public information officer with the City of Roseville. “There is an appreciation that the city is working to reduce costs and be more efficient.”
Recently, Roseville Transit completed the purchase of three Proterra buses, which they expect to have up and running by Fall 2022. “We’re looking forward to getting our first projects up and running,” said Mike Dour, Roseville Transit’s alternative transportation manager. “We’re still figuring out what electric buses will mean for us from an operations standpoint. Getting these new buses up and running will allow us to test and figure out how to plan our routes.”
Designs are underway for a shared bus depot that will house both city vehicles and buses. Having an integrated city allows for a collaboration of services that is beneficial in meeting residents’ needs. Dour says that the agency is open to the opportunities and prepared for the challenges that will come with converting their fleet. “Having a full-service city has been really helpful because we have our electric team right around the corner. We’ve been able to work directly with Roseville Electric Utility to design our charging system.”
Funding the future
There is a lot that goes into planning the construction of a new fleet with new technology. Jose Perez, deputy director, Operations, Planning, and Special Projects at Yolo County Transportation District (Yolobus), shared the agency is in the midst of transit studies to identify existing resources and what will be needed in terms of space, infrastructure, and skills that are required for the new fleet, “We have to define what the need is going to be.” Perez is working to answer some important questions about the transition: “What can we do with existing technology? What will that technology look like in the future?” and one of the most important questions, “How much does it cost?”
Upfront, an electric bus can cost upward of $200,000 more than a bus with a traditional combustion engine. That can have a significant impact on the bottom line if an agency needs to purchase 10, 20, or 50 buses to replace the existing fleet. Transit agencies are evaluating what can be done with their existing resources, and what new resources they need to seek in the form of federal and state grants in order to pay for the vehicles and infrastructure.
Agencies are meeting the challenges head on and using this as an opportunity to create organizations that are more than just bus operators. Martin says, “It’s about re-envisioning public transit, the grounds, and the relationship it has with the community.”