TriMet, Portland’s largest public transit company, is taking the lead in renewable technology by introducing a fleet of electric transit buses powered solely by wind turbines. On April 16, after numerous small scale tests, the first of these electric buses took to the streets.
Currently running on route 62-Murray Blvd in Beaverton, these buses are a major step towards TriMet’s goal to shift their bus fleet from diesel to renewable energy in the next 20 years. Route 62 was specially chosen for its 13-mile length and 700 ft climb in elevation to help TriMet officials assess if these battery-electric buses are a viable and economical option for system-wide expansion.
TriMet currently operates the 11th largest public transit bus fleet in the United States, with 658 buses total. 97 percent of these are standard 40-foot diesel buses around an average of seven years old. According to TriMet, these diesel buses have historically been cost-effective and reliable. On a full tank of fuel, they have sufficient range for any typical service route and can be refueled in minutes. However, the agency admits that “even low-emission buses running on a biodiesel blended fuel still rely on fossil fuels that generate emissions, contributing to climate change.”
While the company acknowledges the pitfalls of diesel fuel, they also claim that its riders avoid an estimated 210,000 car trips annually by using public transit. TriMet claims that the introduction of battery-electric buses will cut emissions even further, reducing their carbon output by 100 to 140 tons per year when compared to diesel vehicles. “TriMet’s commitment to a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040 and support of wind power put the agency and our region at the forefront of a cleaner future,” Doug Kelsey, TriMet’s general manager, said in a statement.
Planners estimate that TriMet’s goal to shift their bus fleet away from diesel by 2040 will cost roughly 500 million dollars. TriMet was awarded a 3.4 million dollar grant last August from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to purchase five currently active buses that run on 100 percent renewable energy. In September 2018, the board also approved a plan to buy up to 80 additional buses in the next five or six years.
Many countries, including China, have implemented electric buses into their transit systems in recent years. TriMet has announced that moving forward, they are looking into other non-diesel power alternatives including hydrogen fuel cell power and natural gas. TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt asserts that Portland’s progressive view of transportation makes it an ideal place to test out these new forms of power.
TriMet is planning to deploy the electric buses on “routes hit hardest by transportation pollution,” said Meredith Connolly, director of the nonprofit Oregon Climate Solutions, at the April 16 bus unveiling. Transportation-related pollution has been an especially serious problem for neighborhoods east of 82nd, such as Lents.
TriMet has agreed to pay 228.75 dollars a month to Portland General Electric for the use of wind power. At least one fourth of energy is “guaranteed” to be sourced from Pacific Northwest wind farms. According to Kelsey, the introduction of electric buses marks just the beginning of a very complex journey for TriMet.