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Strategy would give transit agency all battery-electric fleet by the year 2040.

COURTESY TRIMET  - A new model of a zero-emissions bus powered by a battery. TriMet is committing to shift its bus fleet away from deadly diesel engines, though the process will take another 22 years.

The regional transit agency's board voted unanimously last Wednesday, Sept. 26, to adopt the 2018 TriMet Non-Diesel Bus Plan, which signals the agency's intent to achieve a non-diesel bus fleet by 2040.

Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, and also leads to cardiovascular, lung and other disorders. Health officials estimate that it causes more than 400 premature deaths in Oregon each year.

The first phase of the plan is for TriMet to ask the Oregon Transportation Commission for authority to use $53 million in Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund money to acquire 60 battery electric buses, plus associated battery-charging infrastructure, then 20 more of the buses during a second phase.

The buses are powered by batteries, so they don't require the overhead electric transmission lines of older electric-powered bus systems. A TriMet analysis found that battery electric buses "appear to hold the greatest near-term promise for meeting operational needs, reducing pollution, and reducing maintenance and operations costs in the long term."

Nevertheless, TriMet estimates that the first round of 80 of the buses will cost $53 million more than comparable diesel-engine buses. However, the battery electric buses figure to have lower maintenance and fuel costs to operate.

Conversion of the entire fleet to battery electric buses is now estimated to cost $500 million more than the equivalent in diesel buses. However, TriMet hopes to first demonstrate the viability of the battery electric buses, as their prices continue to decline compared to diesel buses. It's also possible newer technologies will emerge before the conversion to non-diesel buses is completed.

By 2040, TriMet projects that it will have 1,037 total buses, all of them electric.

TriMet currently has 658 buses, the 11th-largest bus fleet in the nation. The average age of its fleet is 7.4 years old. Sixty-five percent of the bus fleet has post-2012 diesel emissions technology that filters out most of the harmful diesel particulates from the exhaust.

Moving to battery electric buses also helps fulfill goals of the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan and the state's greenhouse gas goals.

Transit agencies in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City, among others, also are committing to zero-emissions bus fleets.

Joint testimony submitted by several environmental groups, plus Forth, which promotes electric vehicles, praised the TriMet action.

"Simply said, it is time for TriMet to join other transit leaders on the West Coast (King County, LA County, Smart/Wilsonville and many others) and implement a long-term plan to decarbonize the transit system by eliminating dirty diesel buses and other fossil fuel fleet vehicles."

They noted that TriMet is the single-largest consumer of diesel fuel in Oregon, and the transportation sector is the largest contributor here to greenhouse gas emissions in the state. State progress on reducing carbon emissions associated with transportation has been elusive in recent years.

The testimony was supplied by Climate Solutions, Oregon Environmental Council, Environment Oregon, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists and Forth.

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@SteveLaw/Trib

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