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Electric Buses Headed To Porterville

proterra company website
A proterra Bus

By this time next year, two brand new all electric buses will be rolling down the streets of Porterville. The move away from diesel and hybrid buses is part of efforts to clean up the valley’s air.

For the cost of just under 1-million dollars, Porterville is replacing two of their existing buses with a new generation of clean, emission free all-electric vehicles.

Richard Tree, Porterville’s Transportation Manager, says the decision to go all electric was an easy one.

“Our board was very eager to get into zero-emission. They know with air quality in the valley, we needed to do our part to try to improve it and it was really a no-brainer for them,” Tree said.

Tree says about half the money is coming from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and half from the city.

"Traditionally electric vehicles couldn't do this job....But now with long range and fast charge you can absolutely replace conventional buses," Ryan Popple, Proterra

"And this is really, I hope, a trend setting for transit agencies in our valley. Looking for ways to improve the air. Looking outside of the box,” Tree said.

The buses are made by a company called Proterra.

Ryan Popple with Proterra says rapid advances in electric vehicle technology have made the busses a realistic competitor in mass transit.

“Traditionally electric vehicles couldn’t do this job. The vehicles are very heavy. The routes are energy intensive. You have got a lot of hills and congestion. So up until a couple of years it wasn’t possible for an electric vehicle to do this. But now with long range and fast charge you can absolutely replace conventional buses,” Popple said.

Lithium-Ion battery packs run the length of the bus driving it forward and powering amenities like air conditioning and heat.

Ryan says the buses can travel over 200 miles on a single charge, which is more than the standard daily service range for a city bus. 

They can also be quick charged in three or four minutes at stations as part of the bus’s route with little delay in service.

"The electric buses cost about 20-cents per mile to operate. Compared to about 60-cents per mile for our hybrid electric-diesel buses," George Lorente

 Popple says one of the biggest surprises for most riders is the near silence of the bus. No more rumbling engines and belching exhaust.

To save weight the body of the bus is made out of carbon fiber.

And the falling cost of the batteries has brought the buses to a price similar to other clean buses such as hybrids and compressed natural gas.

“And then the last shoe to drop is I think electric vehicles are going to be even cheaper than diesel,” Popple said.

The buses are already running in some towns in California, including Stockton which recently decide to add seven more all electric buses to their fleet.

George Lorente with the San Joaquin Regional Transportation District says two buses they have now cost about one-third of what it would cost to operate a combustion engine bus.

“The electric buses cost about 20-cents per mile to operate. Compared to about 60-cents per mile for our hybrid electric-diesel buses. And I know it is over a dollar for just diesel buses which we don’t run,” Lorente said.

When those elements are factored in, it’s possible that the all-electric buses are cheaper over their life than other bus technology.

Lorente says they have placed an order for seven additional buses, for a total of nine. However that’s a small percentage of their overall bus fleet.

Still, the two that are headed to Porterville represent nearly 10-percent of that city’s bus fleet.

And with plans to add solar panels to their headquarters, the buses might soon run on the sun.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.