Aspen officials invest nearly $2 million on electric bus project
Aspen’s elected officials this week committed to spending $1.8 million for a fleet of battery-powered buses that are expected to hit the streets next year.
The city’s expenditure is only a portion of the total cost, which is estimated to be $8.45 million, for eight electric buses manufactured by New Flyer. The specific model that transportation officials have selected is called the “Xcelsior Charge.”
The rest of the money will come from RFTA, federal and state grants, as well as the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which is comprised of the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village.
Both RFTA and the city had to increase their funding because competition for a federal grant was much stiffer than anticipated.
“The slice of the pie got smaller and the (Federal Transit Administration) didn’t have enough money for all of the applicants,” John Krueger, the city’s transportation director, said Wednesday. “Then it was like, ‘Wow we have a funding shortfall here.’”
The original grant application for the Federal Low or No Emission grant program was $3.9 million. Because of the high number of applicants, the Low No funds were spread out over more recipients so RFTA only received $751,531.
The city’s contribution is equal to RFTA’s. The agency is covering the local match for the grants of just over $1 million, CEO Dan Blankenship said.
Aspen City Council on Monday agreed to sign a letter of financial commitment with RFTA for what they are calling the Battery Electric Bus Zero Emission program.
In the winter of 2017, three bus manufacturers came to Aspen so city staff and transportation officials could ride and evaluate them.
Next year a pilot program will be considered to see how the buses function in an alpine environment and how long they will hold a charge. Aspen is one of the first towns in the state to have battery-electric buses.
“At altitude, in a ski resort, in the winter, with lots of stop-and-go’s, how will they perform?” Krueger said. “We just need to see how they work. I think they will be OK. We just need to get some experience.”
The city and RFTA issued a request for proposals for a bus manufacturer to partner on the federal grant application. Out of three bids, Canada-based New Flyer was selected.
“New Flyer came back as the best and the most responsive bid,” Krueger said, adding that when he and others tested the three different models, the Xcelsior Charge was the quietest. “We wanted to go with a solid bus manufacturer that’s going to be around for a while.”
New Flyer is the largest bus manufacturer in North America. It introduced its first battery-electric bus in 2012 and has since delivered over 6,400 on the continent.
The eight zero-emission buses that RFTA will receive will be used in a pilot program on upper valley routes, including in the city of Aspen.
The Xcelsior Charge has a range of up to 260 miles on a single charge, and saves between 100 and 160 tons of greenhouse gases a year compared with a diesel bus.
RFTA’s fleet includes clean diesel, hybrid electric and compressed natural gas buses. The city’s in-town shuttles run on gasoline.
Battery-powered buses cost nearly twice as much as other buses but Krueger and Blankenship predict they will realize more savings with less maintenance and no fuel. They also are expected to last longer than regular buses.
Krueger said many communities are pursuing battery electric buses because of their environmental benefits. Luckily, Aspen is on the cutting edge, he added.
“This is a huge step in our climate action plan, and reducing noise and emissions,” he said. “This is the first step to a bigger effort.
“Our timing is good on this because the competition for grant funding is going to get tougher.”
Blankenship said the RFTA board will likely approve ordering the buses at its July meeting so they can be online for next summer. He added that there are more benefits to the buses than just the environment.
“The real advantage in terms of moving to electric buses is that they are really quiet,” he said. “With 400 buses going into town every day and 400 going out … and on residential routes, these will give some tranquility.”
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