Everett Transit, on the verge of a major network restructure, brought its first electric battery bus into service earlier this week. The bus, a 42-foot Proterra Catalyst E2, is identical to the newer generation of electric battery buses operated by Metro in Bellevue and has been one of the most popular electric models for the past several years. The bus can carry 31 seated passengers and about 18 standees, can handle grades of 10% at 40 miles per hour, and can run for 250 miles on a single charge (which takes 2.5 hours to complete). Similar Proterra buses have been making trial runs in Bellingham for the Whatcom Transportation Authority and a pair were recently delivered to Kitsap Transit and Pierce Transit.
The new bus is the first of four that will enter service by the end of the year and will primarily run on Route 7, the system’s flagship route that runs along Broadway and Evergreen Way—Everett’s two busiest transit corridors. It was funded by a $3.4 million Low or No Emission Vehicle grant awarded by the Federal Transit Administration in 2016 and matched by funds from the agency.
Everett plans to convert half of its 36-coach fleet to electric battery buses by 2022, doing so by replacing its oldest buses (a fleet of Orion V coaches from the mid-1990s) and downsizing the fleet size to save costs. Currently, the agency has a fleet of ten Gillig hybrid diesel-electric buses and 32 diesel-only coaches. Everett’s electricity is sourced from the Snohomish County PUD, whose current fuel mix is 98% carbon-free (the majority being hydroelectric, followed by nuclear) and is planning to go completely carbon-free over the next decade.
A separate $2.88 million Regional Mobility Grant from WSDOT funded three electric buses that will enter service next year on Route 6, which connects the city’s slowly-growing waterfront to downtown and will be promoted to all-day service under new restructured network. Additional grants from the Federal Highway Administration and other federal sources will pay for two buses arriving in 2020 and nine in 2022.
The electric buses will save about 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually once the full fleet is delivered in 2022, representing a savings of 76% in fuel costs per bus service hour. Everett also touts that the buses are significantly quieter than its diesel counterparts, registering 57 decibels from 50 feet away compared to 77 decibels for a conventional bus. After figuring out the idiosyncrasies of the electric buses and their charging system, Everett estimates that the new fleet will save 56% in maintenance costs as fluids like antifreeze and oil are replaced with battery care and electronics diagnostics.
Just as Metro’s order of 120 electric buses by 2020 has some transit advocates questioning whether large agencies like Sound Transit should look into electric vehicles, Everett’s ambitious plans should provide an interesting use case for smaller agencies that are already heavily dependent on federal grants for bus replacements. Rural and semi-urban agencies of comparable size throughout the Northwest are also looking into electric buses, but none have made a large commitment to them as of press time. The takeover of electric battery buses is well underway and the Puget Sound region looks to be leading the way.