The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) board approved purchasing 10 plug-in battery-electric buses for a pilot program to test how the buses perform on Orange County streets.
The contract with New Flyer of America Inc. is for $10.4 million, with substantial grant funding helping pay for the purchase of the 10 buses. The move is part of OCTA’s plan to convert the OC Bus fleet to 100% zero-emission technology by 2040.
Earlier this year, OCTA also began operating 10 hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses, and this new pilot will help determine which technology — or mix of technologies — will work best for Orange County moving forward.
OCTA has already gradually transitioned its fleet over the years, from diesel-burning buses to clean-burning renewable CNG buses with near-zero-emission engines. The state has set a requirement to transition to complete zero-emission transit within the next 20 years.
In June, OCTA approved a zero-emission bus (ZEB) rollout plan, which was submitted to the California Air Resources Board.
The plan is not a commitment to a specific type of technology. OCTA is testing both hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses and plug-in battery-electric buses to determine which ZEBs best meet OCTA’s needs related to operations, maintenance, and cost, among other factors.
The 10 plug-in battery-electric buses are each the standard 40-foot length with capacity of up to 76 riders, (OCTA is currently limiting bus occupancy because of COVID-19). The buses have an estimated range of 200 miles between charges, which will allow them to run for a full day and be charged nightly at OCTA’s Garden Grove bus base.
Five of the 10 test buses are scheduled to run on a new Bravo! route between Anaheim and South Coast Metro in Santa Ana. The other five will operate throughout Orange County.
Five of the buses are funded by grants through the California Transportation Commission and SB 1, and through the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program administered by Caltrans.
The hydrogen fuel-cell buses, which also create no emissions, began operating in January, when OCTA debuted its hydrogen fueling station in Santa Ana. In all, it represented a $22.9 million investment. More than half of that funding — $12.5 million — came from California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities.
OCTA will begin phasing in additional zero-emission buses as part of future bus purchases beginning in 2023. At the same time, staff will continue to analyze emerging technologies and work with partners to secure funding for purchase, operations, and maintenance of the buses.
The hydrogen fuel-cell buses continue to be tested on routes throughout Orange County. The plug-in battery-electric buses are expected to begin operation in Orange County in late 2021.