Last month, five electric buses hit the streets in economically disadvantaged communities throughout the city of Gardena as part of a project that will improve local air quality, provide workforce development and help grow the state’s green economy.
The buses are quiet, so quiet that recorded messages now indicate their movements for the visually impaired. But they have oomph, so much so that drivers must be reminded to accelerate with care and tell passengers to hold on tight during departures.
In 2016, Gardena’s public transit agency, GTrans, took the five buses from its fleet of aging hybrid gasoline-electric buses, stripped them down to the frame and rebuilt them with clean zero-emissions, battery-electric propulsion systems. The new buses also include energy efficiency upgrades such as LED lighting and ultraviolet reflective windows for heat reduction.
Conversion of the buses was made possible by a $2.7 million grant to GTrans from the California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP), which to date has invested more than $748 million to support advancements in alternative, renewable fuels and the vehicles powered by them. Other project partners include Complete Coach Works, CALSTART and the Southern California Regional Transit Training Consortium.
“The California Energy Commission is pleased to support GTrans’ work to provide the diverse and disadvantaged communities it serves with increased public access to advanced, clean transportation,” said Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott.
“GTrans’ partnership with Complete Coach Works to retrofit buses with zero-emissions technology helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and provides a pathway to clean-transportation jobs throughout the region.”
The current pilot project has provided local workforce development for a diverse crew of employees who built the buses. It also provides employment for workers needed to drive the buses and maintain them.
Complete Coach Works’ diverse and highly trained workforce retrofitted the buses at its facility in Riverside. Adding the service of remanufacturing transit buses with Zero Emission Propulsion System technology has enabled Complete Coach Works to add more than 50 employees. The facility takes pride in employing people from various ethnicities and backgrounds.
GTrans aims to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 99 percent in the next six years by converting 20 percent of its fleet to all-electric propulsion, and the rest to run on compressed natural gas. This test run will help determine if it is feasible for GTrans to convert additional buses to electric from its existing fleet, rather than buy new vehicles.
It will also lay the groundwork for other transit agencies across the country looking for green transportation options.