Looking Down the Road At Battery Powered Buses

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

All electric battery bus next to our current Muni coach

Last week, San Francisco hosted the 2019 International Zero Emission Bus Conference.

Transit agencies around the world agree that zero-emission buses are the future and the public transit industry has always been on the leading edge of the environmental movement. Increasing transit ridership is the most effective way to reduce the transportation sector's pollution. We accomplish this both by reducing the number of single occupant car trips and by continuing to improve the clean technology of our buses and trains.

We are excited about the environmental benefits, but we also think zero-emissions buses do much more, including making public transit a quieter, more comfortable experience and ultimately, a more attractive way to move around our cities. Zero emissions vehicles are especially beneficial for communities of concern, who are most often impacted by historical inequities including lack of access and poor air quality.

In San Francisco, making transit and other sustainable modes of travel “more attractive” has been our goal since 1973 when the City adopted its Transit First policy. Today, San Francisco is home to almost 900,000 people and growing. Given that we are just a 47 square mile city, surrounded on three sides by water and smack dab in the middle of a mega-region that is home to nearly 7.7 million residents, we simply have no choice but to move more people in fewer vehicles.

Muni is one of the first agencies to adopt hybrid electric buses and has built on that technology over time. We now operate primarily electric-trolleys and renewable diesel hybrids with our newest vehicles also incorporating an engine start/stop feature. In May of this year, the SFMTA launched its Green Zone pilot. When one of our specially-adapted hybrid-electric bused enters a designated Green Zone, a GPS device triggers them to switch into in battery mode for a short distance, allowing us to further reduce emissions, especially in communities of concern.

This Investment Has Paid Off

Today, Muni is proud to operate the greenest transit fleet of any major city in North America. Every day, Muni carries roughly 26 percent of all trips in San Francisco, yet generates a scant .03 percent of the City’s transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. This is made possible because our fleet engineering team is leading a number of innovative initiatives for the zero-emissions bus program in strong partnership with bus maintenance and the acceptance testing/quality control team.

San Francisco has set a fast pace to reach 100 percent zero electric buses. Last May, the SFMTA Board of Directors adopted a resolution to begin procuring zero-emission battery buses to replace our hybrid electric vehicles, beginning in 2025. The goal is to operate a 100 percent electric vehicle fleet by 2035.

In 2020 the SFMTA will begin the battery-electric bus pilot program with the procurement of 9 battery-electric buses and charging equipment. We are using the pilot to learn everything we can about running battery-electric buses in San Francisco. We are also working to learn everything we can about the facility needs of a zero-emissions fleet – starting with the complete rebuild and modernization of one of our oldest bus yards, Potrero Yard, which will be equipped to serve the SFMTA’s growing fleet as it transitions to battery electric vehicles.

As we look to the future, we hope that you will embrace the changes we are making to help fight climate change and make all of our commutes more sustainable in the years to come.