The quiet generation
Sandy Transit, along with a few intrigued community members, took an electrifying test drive on Thursday, March 1.
Sandy Transit Director Andi Howell, accompanied by two representatives from Complete Coach Works, NW Region Sales Manager Jim Paul and engineer Bob L'Hommedieu toured the usual routes in a loaned electric Gillig bus. Complete Coach Works specializes in rehabilitating buses by gutting their factory diesel components and replacing them with electric elements.
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 competitive grant fund for transportation agencies. At the same time it required 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.
Howell ordered the demonstration of the electric bus to get a firsthand look at how alternative vehicles would handle the hilly routes in the Sandy area. The bus ran the Estacada route at 7 a.m. and the SAM Gresham route at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.
"I would love to have electric here," she told The Post earlier. "I want to get ahead of the push for alternative fuels."
The bus lent to Sandy for the demonstration was 18 years old and rehabbed four years ago.
After reading about the city's project in The Post, Sandy resident Jack Rooney, came out bright and early Thursday morning to see how the bus fared compared to its diesel-fueled counterpart.
"I thought it was a new bus," Rooney noted, smiling. "When I found out it was 18 years old, I was stunned. I love it."
Rooney also said he likes how much quieter the motor is in the electric bus.
"I think it creates a nicer atmosphere when you're not yelling at each other," Howell added.
After taking the bus up the hilly road to Estacada that morning, Howell told The Post she was pleased to find the vehicle handled it better than she initially predicted.
"It did great," Howell said. "It was slow, but it did great."
Unfortunately, at the end of the four-hour test drive, Howell estimated that electric transportation probably wouldn't be a viable option for the small-town transit department, at least not for a while.
The biggest factor standing in the way, of course, is cost. A new diesel Gillig bus costs around $435,000 and an electric is about $600,000.
"If it wasn't for us having two Gilligs surplussed we could rehab, it wouldn't even be an option," Howell explained. "We'd still have to find the funding. Hopefully we would be able to secure enough funding for not only the buses but the infrastructure required. And that would be a big hurdle. Ultimately we would want to be able to charge the buses here and at the transit center."
Besides being rather cost-prohibitive, the electric buses can't quite handle the terrain of the Sandy area, especially without losing a charge faster.
"On average, the diesel Gillig gets 14 hours — an entire day of use — before it needs to be refueled," Howell said.
That's about 375 miles on one tank of diesel. The electric bus made it 88 miles before it had to return to the shop for a three-hour charge, though, on average, electric buses are supposed to run 140 miles on one charge.
"I don't think it would make it up Timberline Road," Howell noted. "I'm not sure it fits our type of routes. I'm not sure the technology is where we need it to be yet, but it's coming."