The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has been awarded $1 million in federal funding earmarked for an all-electric bus and/or charging equipment. The allotment from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration comes from $55 million disbursed through its Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle program.
The grant money was awarded to 51 projects in 39 states in September. PSTA was one of five transit authorities in Florida to receive an award.
“It’s a competitive grant.” says Henry Lukasik, PSTA Director of Maintenance. “We’re very thankful that we did receive it.”
“We’re looking at all ways [of spending it] to really make sure that every dollar is maximized,” he adds.
Joe Cheney, PSTA’s Deputy Director of Fleet Operations, says PSTA has been moving toward all-electric buses for nearly 10 years. It already has some 70 hybrid electric buses, which make up about 36 percent of its fleet.
“One of the big advantages we’re anticipating, obviously, are zero tailpipe emissions," Cheney says. “The overall life cycle costs would be lower over the course of 12 years.”
Two electric buses priced at $800,000 each are on order, and likely will be delivered in May or June 2018. PSTA will be installing overnight, plug-in chargers as well as a charging plate to partially recharge the battery while buses are on their newly designed route in downtown St. Petersburg.
Buses will pull over and recharge for about three to five minutes. “While it won’t recharge the entire bus,” Lukasik says, “it will keep it maintained at a level of charge where it can continue out there all day long.”
Ashlie Handy, PSTA’s Media Liaison/Public Information Officer, says PSTA also has secured nearly $600,000 through the British Petroleum settlement fund to reimburse victims of the massive Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. “We are actively seeklng partners and grant opportunities,” she says.
“We’re finding ways to bring money from other places. We’re not tapping into our reserves,” she explains. “These are monies we are bringing to Pinellas County.”
Riders will find the buses similar in layout to its other buses, but much quieter. “Because there’s not an engine, it will be very quiet on the bus, probably to the point where people can carry on a conversation,” Lukasik says.
Across Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is awaiting the delivery of 15 compressed natural gas buses by the end of the year. It acquired 35 CNG buses in 2015-16, and 10 of its 25 additional buses earlier this year.
“These new buses will be put into service in fall/winter 2017-2018, giving HART one of the youngest fleets in the state,” says HART’s Public Information Officer Sandra Morrison.
“Since 2015 we’ve saved approximately $720,000 using our natural gas compared to the cost of diesel fuel,” she says.
HART plans to transition the entire fleet of some 187 buses by 2025 as part of its move to cleaner, alternative fuel. The CNG buses cost approximately $300,000 less per vehicle than electric and have the ability to operate when the power is out, Morrison says.
Since 2014, the HART fleet has used the equivalent of 1 million gallons of diesel fuel.