Beyond the fact that it was packed full of Marin County government leaders, the green bus traveling through the Civic Center on Tuesday afternoon was not your typical day in transit.
As the 35-foot bus took its first passenger load in Marin County for a test ride, the drive was noticeably more silent. The chatter of county supervisors, town council members and the air-conditioning units dominated the interior soundscape, with only a whirring sound emanating in the background as the bus accelerated on to northbound U.S. Highway 101.
It was the first test drive of Marin Transit’s zero-emission, all electric buses.
Stephanie Moulton-Peters — a Marin Transit board member, Transportation Authority of Marin chairwoman and Mill Valley councilwoman — said the zero-emission buses have been a priority for Marin Transit since it rolled out its hybrid buses in 2010.
“Marin Transit provides a crucial link to economic, educational and social opportunities for our community and we are so proud that these trips are becoming greener,” Moulton-Peters said to a crowd gathered at the Marin Center on Tuesday afternoon. “The new electric buses are one more step in our journey towards green mobility in Marin County.”
The two buses are part of a pilot project to test how well they can stand up to daily transit and different terrains of Marin County, according to Marin Transit General Manager Nancy Whelan.
The buses were made in California and purchased for $1.6 million from the Chinese manufacturer BYD Auto Co. Each bus can seat 16 passengers and can travel 145 miles when fully charged, with charging taking about three to four hours, according to Whelan.
“It will give our riders a really nice, smooth, clean ride,” Whelan said.
Anna Penoyar, Marin Transit’s senior capital analyst, said factors like hills, whether the air-conditioning is running and passenger load effects the buses’ travel range.
The buses were purchased using Federal Transit Administration and Bay Area Air Quality Management District grants along with the revenue from the county’s Measure A sales tax and Measure B vehicle registration fees.
Golden Gate Transit has been testing the buses since they arrived in September, and will now be testing them in Marin. As a result, the buses will drive no more than 80 miles per day. Once drivers are properly trained, the buses will be deployed on regular Marin Transit routes, Whelan said.
The pilot project will also allow Marin Transit to assess the costs to maintain electric buses by considering factors like electricity rates, construction of charging stations and maintenance.
“I think eventually we want to make our fleet fully zero-emission,” Penoyar said, “but right now this two-bus pilot is going to help inform us how quickly we can do that.”
BYD’s West Coast regional sales manager Justin Scalzi said that compared with standard diesel buses, the electric buses have far fewer parts and will save as much as $500,000 in operational costs throughout their 12-year lifespan.
Scalzi said while a traditional diesel bus would cost more than a hundred dollars a day to run, the electric buses will cost about $20 to $40 per day.
Local, state and federal political leaders praised the new additions to Marin Transit’s 72-bus fleet.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman said it was good to be back from Washington, D.C. to celebrate some good news.
“It’s very satisfying to see the kind of leadership that we’re providing here in Marin County, especially in the wake of the very sobering, latest climate report that we got last week from the U.N. panel,” said Huffman, D-San Rafael. “If anything that’s a wake-up call that we need to do a lot more of this kind of stuff a lot faster in many other places around the country and around the world.”
Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, said it’s important to recognize milestones like these. Levine presented Marin Transit a certificate of appreciation from the state for its actions to meet the state’s 2040 goal of zero-emission vehicles.
“I’m proud to be part of a state and a county that is a leader in clean energy and transportation,” Levine said.
Marin Supervisor Kate Sears said the buses will also help Marin County’s own efforts on climate change through the Drawdown Marin campaign.
“We’re taking a tremendous step forward in our clean energy future in Marin,” Sears said.
Marin Transit rolls out first all-electric buses, by Will Houston, Marin Independent Journal, October 16, 2018.