Mock-up of Pierce Transit battery-electric buses with special liveries. (Credit: Pierce Transit)

New battery-electric buses (BEBs) will start appearing on Pierce Transit routes, the agency has announced today, just in time for the holidays. Six new BEBs will begin service on about a dozen different routes, joining the three BEBs that the agency already has on hand.

“These buses are a continuation of our desire to become carbon neutral as soon as possible,” Pierce Transit’s CEO Mike Griffus said in a statement. “One of our goals as a transit agency is to help combat climate change and we are exploring all initiatives to achieve that goal. A side benefit is to help diversify our fleet in the unlikely event of supply line failures.”

The new BEBs were purchased from Gillig, a major American bus manufacturer, this year using funds made available from the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Air Pollution Control Account (three buses) and Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement (three buses). All six vehicles are 40-foot low-floor buses and can run about 150 to 170 miles on a single charge. The buses are similar in appearance to other 40-foot Gilligs in the agency fleet, but will feature a special blue electric bus wrap to highlight the greener technology.

Since the new vehicles are similar to other Gilligs already in service, Pierce Transit expects to realize savings in training and maintenance costs. In fact, the BEBs have 30% fewer parts, so that should make a big dent in cost savings.

The battery technology also means that vehicles will realize major savings in energy costs, produce zero emissions, and be very quiet when in motion. However, Pierce Transit does source its electricity from Puget Sound Energy, which purchases and produces most of its electricity from dirty sources like coal and natural gas, at its main bus base in Lakewood.

As for routes, the new BEBs will be assigned to Routes 4, 10, 11, 41, 45, 48, 54, 55, 57, 100, 500, and 501. That means they’ll be serving a very wide geography within Pierce Transit’s service area from Puyallup and Lakewood to Federal Way and Ruston. As part of the earlier three-BEB acquisition in 2016, charging equipment is already in place to service the vehicles when needing to fuel up.

Pierce Transit has modest longer-term goals of greening up its fleet with a goal for 20% of vehicles being fully electric by 2030. The agency still has got a way to go with only 5% of the fleet running BEBs. The rest of the bus fleet runs at least partially on fossil fuels, including 13% of buses using hybrid-electric, 80% using compressed natural gas, and 2% using diesel technologies. However, President Joe Biden’s infrastructure program is poised to make billions of dollars available for BEB acquisition grants in the coming years and Washington’s recent climate bills could provide another funding avenue.

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Senior Reporter

Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.