By Will Reisman, @WillReisman

All electric bus.Completely electric buses might not be joining the SamTrans fleet anytime soon, but agency employees were able to scope out one such vehicle on Jan. 21, when BYD Auto swung by the district headquarters to demonstrate the latest in their new line of service coaches.

Touted as the first 60-foot articulated battery-electric bus in the country, the BYD vehicle is capable of running 170 miles before needing recharging, can carry 120 passengers, has zero emissions and has a battery life of over 12 years. The demo vehicle—dubbed the “Lancaster” after the California city it was built in—also racked up some bonus points for still having that new car smell (it debuted in October in time for the American Public Transportation Expo in Houston.)

Before swinging by the SamTrans’ headquarters on Wednesday, Holtz and a few employees from the district took the 60-foot bus on a journey retracing the agency’s Route ECR course, which connects Daly City to Palo Alto. The vehicle was able to make the journey (including a  one-mile deadhead trip between SamTrans’ North Base and the start of the route) while using up just 13 percent of its battery.

Zero emission bus.As a new technology, battery-electric vehicles are still being integrated into the mass transit industry. Currently, there are 13 BYD buses on the Marguerite Shuttle line—the service that connects Stanford University with the Palo Alto Caltrain Station—and 25 more will soon be added to the LA Metro fleet, according to James Holtz, a fleet sales manager for the company. Thousands of the vehicles are in use in China, the home of BYD Auto, and over the next year, the company expects to have some 5,000 buses in operation throughout the globe.

It’s important for SamTrans to start investigating electric vehicle options, according to Chuck Harvey, the agency’s CEO of Operations, Engineering & Construction, since the California Air Resources Board, the state regulatory body in charge of reducing air pollution, may soon start making zero-emission buses a mandatory part of any vehicle procurement order. So, when SamTrans begins the process next year of replacing its 2003 40-foot Gillig buses, that order might require a certain percentage of the replacement fleet to be zero-emission vehicles like electric buses.

SamTrans has already gone to great pains to reduce the emissions on its fleet by investing in new diesel fuel technologies that are cleaner for the environment. It recently introduced 45 hybrid diesel-electric buses into its fleet, replacing old diesel vehicles that produced 90 percent more nitrogen oxide emissions than their newer counterparts. Part of the SamTrans Strategic Plan is to provide public transportation services in the most environmentally-responsible manner possible, so the agency is constantly exploring new ideas about reducing fleet emissions. .

“The idea of a zero-emissions vehicle is extremely exciting for the transit industry and the environment, provided it can be done cost-effectively,” said Harvey.

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