O‘ahu Group’s work on Electric Buses

One of the many campaign efforts the Sierra Club’s O‘ahu Group has been working on is researching and advocating for Honolulu to start incorporating zero-emission electric buses into their public bus fleet. Since October 2016, O‘ahu Group staff and volunteers have met with the Hawai‘i State Energy Office, the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the City’s Department of Transportation Services, Mayor Caldwell, and all nine of the Honolulu City Councilmembers to learn more about existing efforts to support electric buses, grant opportunities to help Hawai‘i pay for electric buses and infrastructure, and to gauge the interest of our local agencies and politicians. Overall, the reception we have received has been largely positive and the City’s Administration is supportive of incorporating electric buses into TheBus system. We continue to discuss with the City’s Department of Transportation Services efforts to launch an electric bus pilot project in Honolulu in Fall 2017 and are also working to pass City Council Resolution 17-166 to support sustainable transportation through zero-emission electric buses.

Below is some information we have gathered on electric buses for anyone who wants to learn more about the benefits, opportunities, and what other cities are doing to incorporate and commit to electrification of their bus systems:

Pilot projects/bills

TheBus facts

  • http://www.thebus.org/AboutTheBus/TheBustFacts14_1.pdf
  • http://www.thebus.org/AboutTheBus/TheBustFacts14_2.pdf
  • TheBus operates a fleet of 542 buses: 389 standard 40 foot buses and 115 articulated 60 foot buses
  • The average age of the buses is 9.5 years old
  • Fuel and energy costs between 2015-2016 were nearly $14 mil, or 7% of the total expenses
  • Annual ridership is 68 million passenger trips and 67,000 miles
  • Electric buses would target routes less than 125 miles
  • Initial rollout would be best on Route 5, 7, 8, 16, 31, 32, and all express routes

Funding Opportunities

  • U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocated $211 M in 2016 in grants for buses and bus facilities projects. Eligible projects include those that replace, rehabilitate, lease, and purchase buses and related equipment as well as projects to purchase, rehabilitate, construct or lease bus-related facilities, such as buildings for bus storage and maintenance.   https://www.transit.dot.gov/about/news/us-department-transportation-announces-266-million-funding-opportunity-improve-bus
  • U.S. DOT granted $55 M to twenty transit providers in 2016 through the “Low or No-Emission Bus Competitive Grant Program”. Hawaii was eligible to participate for the first time in 2016 because the “non-attainment” language was dropped. Federal funding is very competitive and this grant received over 100 applications. https://www.transit.dot.gov/about/news/us-department-transportation-announces-55-million-grants-transit-agencies-deploy-clean
  • U.S. DOT granted $500 M to 40 transit providers in 2016 through the “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” Grant Program. This grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states since 2009. Demand for the TIGER grant program continued to far exceed available funds; the DOT received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States in 2016 alone. https://www.transportation.gov/tiger
  • TheBus partnered with HECO and applied for a $25 M TIGER grant for 18 electric buses (federal funds covered 80%)- unsuccessful, was targeted towards route 7 in Kalihi Valley
  • The Federal share for the cost of acquiring a zero emission vehicle is 85%, 90% of the net project costs for bus-related equipment and facilities

Economic benefits

  • BYD electric buses were found to have an efficiency of about 19 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and the 40 foot Proterra bus efficiency was measured at 22 MPGe. http://altoonabustest.psu.edu/buses
  • Initial cost of electric is +$300k, but the difference in local share cost is only about $38,000 for diesel vs. e-bus (40’ bus)
  • With advantageous rate schedule for off-peak consumption of electricity, annual energy costs for battery buses should be about ⅓ the cost of diesel
  • Maintenance costs for e-buses are lower than diesel or diesel-hybrid: predicted for 2020: $27,200 diesel or hybrid  vs $25,600 electric. No oil changes, no transmissions, no exotic EPA driven emissions reducing systems
  • Annual energy costs for electric are lower than diesel: predicted for 2020: $24k diesel vs $14k ebus
  • Estimated cost savings per year is $15k (energy + maintenance costs)
  • Although Electric buses cost about $300,000 more per bus than diesel, over a 14-year life, the savings in fuel cost, maintenance costs, and the benefits of Greenhouse Gas reduction results in a mildly more costly life-cycle cost (about 2.5% more per bus and additional cost of 10% based on a 3% discount rate).
  • If only local costs are considered, ebus have a 25% lower life cycle cost than other buses, assuming an off-peak TOU rate schedule from Hawaiian Electric

Environmental benefits

Health benefits

  • Diesel exhaust contains more than forty toxic air contaminants that in some cases can cause and/or worsen diseases such as asthma and cancer, disproportionately harming low-income neighborhoods.
  • Short term exposure to high concentrations of diesel exhaust/diesel particulate matter can cause headache, dizziness, and irritation of the eye, nose and throat severe enough to distract or disable miners and other workers. Prolonged exposure can increase the risk of cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary and respiratory disease and lung cancer. https://www.osha.gov/dts/hazardalerts/diesel_exhaust_hazard_alert.html
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies diesel engine exhaust as “carcinogenic to humans” and the US EPA classifies diesel exhaust as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/pollution/diesel-exhaust-and-cancer

We believe that as Hawai‘i moves towards its commitment to producing 100% renewable energy and reducing our dependence on expensive, imported fossil fuels, investing in electric buses is a smart move economically, environmentally, and socially for O‘ahu. We will continue to advocate for zero-emission electric buses on behalf of our members and supporters and will keep you updated on our efforts.