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Friday, May 14, 2021

WTA to purchase two electric buses with $2.3 million grant

The two new electric buses will join WTA’s eight hybrid buses. // Photo by Samuel Fletcher

By Samuel Fletcher

In September, the Federal Transit Administration awarded Whatcom Transportation Authority a $2.3 million grant to cover 85 percent of the funds necessary to purchase two electric buses and charging facilities. The new buses will be joining WTA’s fleet in 2020.

The 12-year service life of each electric bus is estimated to reduce WTA’s fuel consumption by 100,000 gallons, carbon dioxide emissions by 1,100 tons, nitrogen oxide emissions by 674 pounds and particulate matter emissions by 30 pounds, according to a Whatcom Transportation Authority press release posted on September 24.

Community Relations and Marketing Manager Maureen McCarthy said the grant application was competitive. In the application, WTA shared how the electric buses would benefit Whatcom County and how they would prepare to properly maintain the buses.

Preparing meant establishing expertise on electric motors and installing charging stations, McCarthy said.

“We would be among the first smaller agencies to take on electric buses [in Washington State],” McCarthy said.

WTA received the grant based on a number of factors, McCarthy said. One of which was that the grant would not be WTA’s first step toward a cleaner bus system.

McCarthy said in 2011, the agency introduced eight hybrid buses to the Whatcom County community. This enabled WTA to begin establishing proper training for their mechanics and drivers on the new types of equipment.

Furthermore, WTA has leased a fully-electric bus from July to December of this year to familiarize their staff with the equipment and understand how it will perform through various seasons. However, according to McCarthy, there’s more to learn than one might expect.

“How does it perform with the heat on? How does it perform with the air conditioning on?” she said. “How does it perform on hills fully loaded when it is 20 degrees outside?”

The mechanical logistics of the new buses are also different, she said. An electric bus battery is situated on the top of the vehicle, so mechanics must clip on a harness and attach to the ceiling to work on it, which is much different from crawling under or working behind the bus, McCarthy said.

Sophomore Brandon Green lives off-campus and said he takes the bus every day. He said he believes that having fuel-efficient buses is important, especially since a large portion of Bellingham is on the water. Bellingham residents must be even more cognizant of pollution because of the fragile ecosystem they procure so many resources from.

Green also emphasized the importance of public transport in a town like Bellingham with a large population of college students.

“At UW they already have transportation systems like E-Rail, but they are in the middle of a city so it’s not really a college town,” Green said. “Whereas here, a lot of people are not using cars, and having a clean bus to go on is really important for our transportation needs.”

First-year student Samantha Arellano is from Brewster, a small town in central Washington. She said people usually walk from place to place there, so commuting on a loud, crowded bus is something she is still getting used to.

McCarthy said with the new electric buses, this shouldn’t be as much of a problem.

“They should be quieter and cleaner, so if there are two of them parked outside Haggard Hall they won’t be emitting any emissions, which is awesome,” McCarthy said.

Arellano said she likes the idea of WTA introducing cleaner buses to the community.

“It’s saving the earth, isn’t it?” she said.

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