Last year, one of Oregon's many House bills was designed to further the state's mission as a leader in environmental conservation. House Bill 2017 established the goal of replacing diesel-run vehicles used in public transportation, and also created a new competitive grant fund for transportation agencies. At the same time it created the requirement that those agencies have to be actively working to use alternative fuels or take diesel engines off the road for them to receive state funds.
In an effort to get a firsthand look at how alternative vehicles would handle the hilly routes in the Sandy area, Sandy Transit Director Andi Howell has ordered a demonstration of an electric bus for March 1. The bus will run the Estacada route at 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and the SAM Gresham route at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Community members are encouraged to take a ride and provide feedback.
Sandy Transit currently has one 2008 Gillig passenger bus in surplus and one ready to be declared surplus and taken off the roads. Through the company Complete Coach Works, which is loaning Sandy Transit the bus it will demo, both of these buses are capable of being gutted and rehabbed into electric vehicles.
So, Howell said if the bus she tries works out, she'd consider applying for grants to replace the department's diesel vehicles.
When considering which alternative fuels to try, Howell said she passed over hybrids because she thought by the time the department replaced its fleet, they would be obsolete.
The downsides she sees to electric buses are that they can only go 140 miles on a charge, and she doesn't know if they'll be able to withstand the area's hilly terrain.
Brand new electric buses are about twice the price of diesel vehicles. A new Gillig-brand diesel bus costs about $435,000 and a brand new, non-rehabbed electric bus costs $1 million.
"I would love to have electric here," she said. "I want to get ahead of the push for alternative fuels. I'm also excited to see some different, new technology."