Articles & Media

(Originally Posted on Plan Washington Website)

120 all-electric battery buses will be transporting folks around King County by 2020.

Perhaps you’ve ridden one of the three Proterra Catalyst buses tested last year and now serving two popular routes—the Microsoft campus and downtown Bellevue.

“These new battery buses will multiply our ability to protect our climate and clean air in King County,” says Councilwoman Claudia Balducci.

Transportation creates nearly half of all of Washington’s greenhouse emissions. The King County Strategic Climate Action Plan includes increased transit service and a cleaner fleet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

King County’s recent move to adopt zero-emission electric buses is backed by a $3.3 million dollar grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Low-or No-Emission Vehicle Deployment Program. These dollars will help fund some of the new buses as well as charging stations for the three buses already operating. The 40 foot buses have an estimated range of about 25 miles, with a quick charge time of 10 minutes.

Metro will initially purchase up to 73 Catalyst buses from California based Proterra. Eight will go into service this year, with 12 more coming on board during 2018-2019. Up to eight of the new 40-foot battery buses will likely operate on the initial test routes, 226 and 241 in Bellevue.

“King County has long been an innovator in clean vehicle technology. Now, we’re dramatically expanding our zero-emission electric buses and working with the industry to innovate and offer next generation vehicles that move people quietly and cleanly while helping meet our climate goals,” says County Executive Dow Constantine.

By beefing up their fleet of all-electric battery buses, Metro is not only reducing emissions in our region, but influencing the development and expansion of the all-electric bus market nationally.

Each battery bus reduces tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 65 tons each year, the equivalent of 21 cars off the road. The new buses run cleaner, quieter, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

King County’s bus program is riding the wave of the future and is in line with the coming ACES revolution in transportation in which Automated, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicles will be the norm.

Revolutionary new transportation technologies can get us moving safer, faster, greener, and cheaper with ACES technology: vehicles that are automated, connected, electric and shared.

Automated vehicles have the potential to transform personal mobility, improve traffic flow and facilitate ride sharing. They will hugely reduce accidents. After all, 94% of crashes are due to human error.

Connected vehicles communicate with other vehicles and with the advanced highway control systems and infrastructure to reduce accidents and congestion.

Electric vehicles plug into our clean, low cost power grid, decreasing pollution and fuel costs. They are fun to drive and highly reliable.

Shared vehicles mean more people getting to and from their destinations in fewer cars. Cars and trucks can give others rides while their owners are at work.

The potential of ACES technology to transform transportation is, in fact, staggering.

So big picture, where are we and where do we go from here?

Years of advocacy and collaboration between business, labor, and bipartisan legislators led to the passage of a new transportation package in 2015 in Washington State. Over the next 10 years, $16 billion will be invested in critical maintenance and infrastructure projects.

“Platooning” refers to groups of interconnected vehicles traveling in a closely spaced “virtual train” which improves fuel efficiency and reduces congestion.

Washington expects a population growth of 26% from 2014-2040, so the pressure to deal with state transportation infrastructure is a key issue for our state.

While Washington’s power grid is one of the cleanest in the country, if we want to address clean air and climate change our state’s opportunity is in transportation, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emission in our state.

Connected vehicles communicate with other vehicles and with the advanced highway control systems and infrastructure to reduce accidents and congestion.

Washington state has the collective talent and foresight to accelerate and integrate ACES technology.

Here’s what we can do now:

Expand the use of electric vehicles that draw power from the most carbon-free grid in the county. Employers can provide inexpensive supplemental charging during the 8 hour workday with a standard 110 household socket for employees who drive electric cars to work.

Reduce peak congestion with more frequent, flexible tailored transit options.

Update the Commute Trip Reduction Act to encourage flexible vanpools, carpools and company transit. CTR provides incentives to companies with over 100 employees to use carpools, vanpools and transit. As a result, Washington has one of the largest vanpool programs in the country. But the state could have four times the current number by setting up flexible vanpools in addition to the current fixed fleet.

Expand and replicate King County Metro’s all-electric vanpools. Compared to a standard Metro bus that gets 45 miles per gallon per passenger, a Metro all-electric Nissan Leaf gets the equivalent of 500 miles per gallon per passenger. Larger all-electric and hybrid-electric vans will get the equivalent of 1,000 miles per gallon per passenger.

Create a system of connected, high-tech mobility hubs financed in part by private sector and connected with apps.

Establish a series of federally funded pilot projects to demonstrate self-driving shuttles and taxis.

Work with forward-leaning companies such as Uber, Lyft, GM, Google, Tesla, BMW.

Beef up Park and Rides. Current park-and-ride lots are a resounding success. The region needs five to ten times the number of current lots to serve as centers for the flexible vanpool, carpool and other transportation options. Picking up commuters at a central place saves the time and expense of going from house to house.

The Center for Advanced Transportation and Energy Solutions (CATES) notes that ACES will accelerate exponentially when:

  • Public policy takes a major role in reducing accidents, emissions and congestion.
  • Major automakers go into full competitive mode around these new technologies.
  • The Tort Liability System demands collision avoidance systems.

King County Metro’s move to all-electric battery buses exemplifies what Washingtonians can do to accelerate and integrate ACES technology and emerge as as leaders, innovators and participants in a cleaner, greener zero-emissions future.