For Third Year, TriMet Receives Federal Funding to Buy Three Electric Buses and Their Chargers

Your commute to work might soon be a little better for the environment.

The Federal Transit Administration has awarded TriMet a $2.1 million grant to buy three electric buses and fast-charging equipment, according to a Tuesday press release from U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). It marks the third time that TriMet has received the Low or No-Emission Program grant, also known as Low-No.

This comes as part of TriMet’s plan to convert its nearly 700-bus fleet—the 11th largest in the U.S.—to an all non-diesel one. Nearly all of TriMet’s buses, 97 percent, use diesel, according to TriMet’s September 2018 Non-Diesel Bus Plan, which assesses whether TriMet should make the switch to electric, and if so, how. The report concluded that global climate change is forcing TriMet’s hand into switching from diesel to an alternative fuel source by 2040.

In 2018 and 2016, TriMet received the Low-No grant, which totaled just under $2.3 million and $3.4 million respectively. Those awards both funded the purchase of battery-electric buses and chargers. The Oregon Department of Transportation got a $1.4 million Low-No grant in 2017 to replace Wilsonville’s diesel buses for electric ones.

In battery-electric buses, also known as pure electric buses, an on-board battery powers the vehicle. These kinds of buses have “great potential” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2013 peer-reviewed article from the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews journal.

In the article, researchers found that battery-electric buses using electricity in the European Union reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent.

TriMet’s non-diesel bus plan states that the agency won’t be able to fully convert to a non-diesel fleet with its current revenues.

Even after HB 2017, also known as the Keep Oregon Moving Act, expanded transit service and began the transition, completing the switch is going to need additional resources beginning in 2022 or new technologies better than those being predicted by industry experts, the report states.

Portlanders might have a smoother, quieter and less smelly bus commute with these new electric buses.

“The ride is better, the acceleration is smoother, they are much quieter, and they’re cleaner,” said Portland State University professor Aaron Golub, who studies urban transportation systems and is a self-described “bus fanatic.” He also directs PSU’s urban-studies school.

Golub adds that Portlanders probably shouldn’t expect a huge change without a bigger number or TriMet’s buses shifting from diesel.

“It would be like a mosquito massaging an elephant,” he said.