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Sandy Area Metro explores other green options for vehicle fleet in the future

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Past Sandy Transit Director Julie Stephens and current Director Andi Howell were among the riders to demo the BYD electric bus on Wednesday, May 29. Sandy Area Metro (SAM) has put wheels to pavement once more to explore how electric vehicles could work for Sandy's public transit.

Last week, representatives from Build Your Dream (BYD) bus company demonstrated one of their 2017 35-foot electric buses on the routes around Sandy. Sandy Transit staff said the experience was very different than that with Complete Coach Works and their refurbished and "repowered" 2008 Gillig bus back in February 2018.

"I'm totally impressed," said driver and mechanic Ben Smith, who had the opportunity to drive both the Complete Coach Works and BYD buses. "I knew there was a difference between the two, I just didn't know it would be so dramatic."

When staff demoed the Complete Coach Works Gillig last winter, the main downside to the vehicle was that it couldn't handle the inclines of the SAM routes and maintain speed. With the BYD bus, that power pull wasn't an issue, and Smith said that's all because of a difference in how power is delivered within the workings of the bus.

"Drivability wise, I'd much rather drive (the BYD bus)," he added.

According to BYD Pacific Northwest Sales Associate Robert Bafus, the bus SAM got to see costs about 30 cents per mile to operate, and can travel about 140 miles on one charge.

The main cost to going electric would be the initial price tag of creating the infrastructure to charge the buses.

"I don't think you'd have to charge it unless you ran it all day (on the Estacada route)," Bafus told Transit Director Andi Howell during a run to Gresham.

"We don't have a bus that can do every route, so we want to come up with solutions like wireless charging stations. There are a lot of solutions out there to help people get through that (need to charge)."

One BYD electric bus would cost near $700,000 to $800,000, almost double the price of a new diesel Gillig bus like those SAM currently operates.

The BYD bus seats 31 to 32 people with more space for standing riders, and the battery life of the vehicle averages about 12 years, although Bafus said, they're "really capable of much longer."

Howell described the difference between the two electric buses as "night and day."

"I was very impressed with the bus we demoed," Howell said.

Only a small handful of agencies even offer electric options.

"More than anything, every opportunity our agency has to put our drivers on different types of electric vehicles, I want to take so we have experience and driver input on all of them," Howell said. "It's also important we test them on our routes to see if they fit our needs. We have very long days and a lot of miles to travel. I'm sure this won't be the last electric bus we demo."

Two years ago, the Oregon Legislature passed an omnibus transportation package, House Bill 2017, which provided a wide array of changes in transportation policy. Among other things, the bill 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.

"There's a big push from the federal government and the state to move away from diesel, so there are a lot of grant opportunities," Howell said.

SAM is still exploring funding options for going to electric buses. Howell said the department likely will start with their smaller vehicles and phase into being fully electric.

"I know electric is our future," Howell said. "I don't have a set timeline (of when we'll be able to make the change). We are doing a lot of forward planning though, and electric vehicles are part of our planning process."


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