Pending federal grant, agency could purchase nine electric buses to augment diesel fleet

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jeff Muceus, an operator trainer at Trimet, drives an electric bus while departing the Beaverton Transit Center on Friday.As a longtime diesel bus mechanic, Renee Flynn likes getting her hands dirty working with old-school engine parts.

She’s also astute enough to see the implications — as her employer introduces all-electric, zero-emissions buses to its fleet of buses — of the cleaner, more technologically driven direction in which her line of work is going.

“I’m excited,” she said on Friday at a test run for TriMet’s first all-electric bus. “My favorite thing is to work on is the engine and transmission, those kinds of things, so it’s kind of disappointing. But this is where things are going.”

The 40-foot bus manufactured by China’s Build Your Dreams Motors Inc. was certainly going places on Friday morning. TriMet staged test runs to introduce the all-electric concept at the Beaverton Transit Center at 4050 S.W. Lombard Ave. Following an introduction from TriMet Deputy General Manager Bob Nelson, the bus — which runs on a chargeable battery with no transmission or internal-combustion engine whatsoever — took riders on short jaunts throughout the day.

“This is a welcomed and exciting opportunity to test an environmentally friendly bus on TriMet routes,” Nelson said, noting the region is relying more and more on renewable sources of electricity. “As an agency, we are exploring a variety of more fuel-efficient options as the environmental benefits are expected to increase over time.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - An electric motor and various electronic components replace the traditional diesel engine in an emissions-free Build Your Dreams bus TriMet is testing at the Beaverton Transit Center.

The bus will continue to be tested through the first week of July, with the exception of the July 4 holiday. The bus will pick up and drop off riders to simulate realistic operating conditions such as starting, stopping and varying loads.

Fares will be waived during the testing period, but riders will need fare passes when they transfer to a regular diesel bus.

“We really need to test things like the (battery) duty cycle, how long we can roll without charges,” Nelson said on the inaugural test ride. “We want to see how it does on the hills, and our maintenance people will be looking at how it operates.”

The bus is designed to run for at least 12 hours on a single charge, which takes two to four hours. A temporary charging station was installed at TriMet’s Merlo Road garage to accommodate the BYD test-model bus.

If the trial goes well, and TriMet’s application for a Federal Transit Administration matching grant for $5.6 million comes through this fall, the agency — with a $5.3 million local match — plans to purchase nine all-electric buses and charging stations.

Slight nuances

TriMet’s current fleet is primarily diesel, with four diesel-electric hybrids used primarily on line 72.

“We’re always looking to reduce our carbon footprint,” Murphy said at the Friday event. “We have a grant (application) out for nine vehicles. We want to make sure we run a variety of routes and make sure this is the best option for us.”

The agency partnered with Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification for the federal “Lo/No”-emissions grant application for what Murphy touts as versatility in on-route charging systems that integrate with BYD vehicles.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Trimet officials debut a test-model electric bus at the Beaverton Transit Center on Friday, June 20.  Phillip Woolen, maintenance director for BYD’s American operations in Los Angeles, estimates an emissions free bus to cost twice that as a diesel model, which go for around $400,000.

The company is testing the buses largely on the West Coast, with Stanford University in Northern California ordering 12 earlier this year. Other early adopting customers are found in British Columbia, Canada, Mexico, India and parts of Europe.

“We’re focused on the West Coast, where our facility is and where we have the biggest market,” he said, noting that the batteries are rated to last 20 years, beyond the 12-year life of the bus. “Each bus is custom made.”

Ken Jenson, a TriMet training supervisor, noted there are “slight nuances” that differentiate the electric from diesel buses in terms of driving. For example, slowing down feels different as braking power is electronically harnessed to help recharge the battery.

“It’s not a coast,” he explained. “The operator has to learn to stay on the accelerator in the neutral position. It’s very similar to a hybrid. There’s less wear and tear on the brakes.”

Tana Cooper, who takes TriMet buses in Beaverton every day, likes what she sees of the all-electric models.

“I think it will be good for the future,” she said. “The state and the government should make buses like this available for people.”

Phil Day, who rides TriMet about three times a week, gave the concept a thumbs-up when he took a test ride on Friday.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It saves on gas and money in the long run. It’ll be expensive at first, but it will get cheaper.”

For information on the free bus-testing routes, visit

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