RTD, Boulder, CDOT partners in the initiative
By Jerd Smith
Via Mobility Services, the nonprofit transportation service that serves people with disabilities across Boulder County and which runs Boulder’s HOP bus service, is launching an initiative to convert its fleet to an all-electric platform.
The $14 million initiative will start first with the HOP buses, which serve routes across Boulder, said Via CEO Frank Bruno.
Via runs several programs in partnership with Boulder, as well as RTD, with additional funding provided by the Federal Transit Association and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Bruno said Via has already won a commitment from state transportation officials to help pay for the first bus. The vehicles cost $800,000 to $1 million and require two years to build.
Of the 71-vehicle fleet Via operates, 15 are HOP buses. Bruno is hopeful the coalition of agencies backing the initiative will be able to raise enough local matching money to acquire three more buses in order to have four on the streets within two years.
“We’re trying to do this as quickly as we can,” he said.
Via serves five Front Range counties, including Larimer, Weld, Adams and Denver, as well as Boulder.
Converting the rest of the fleet will take longer because there are no electric vehicles on the market that the agency can use to replace the buses that serve people with disabilities, he said.
The nonprofit now operates clean diesel buses, which cost roughly half as much to buy as the newer electric versions. But Bruno said long-term maintenance costs are less.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 300 electric buses were operating in the U.S. as of mid-2016. California is one of the more aggressive states, with major agencies such as the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, which serves areas in and around northern Los Angeles, committed to convert its fleet of diesel buses to electric by 2018, putting 29 buses on the road.
The Chicago Transit Authority announced plans to buy 20 to 30 electric buses last year.
At the same time, RTD recently began converting its 16th Street Mall shuttle buses in Denver to an all-electric fleet.
Boulder Senior Transportation Planner Natalie Stiffler said the city is anxious to convert the HOP fleet in order to help reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
“If we can get clean diesel off the road, that is where we want to be,” Stiffler said.
Funding the program over the next several years will require more than local, state and federal grants, Bruno said.
Cash from the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement may be available, but backing from others will also be required, he said.
“We’re going to have to find a private funder. It may be a challenge, but it’s something I’m motivated to do.”
Jerd Smith: 303-473-1332, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jerd_smith
University of Colorado seniors Fai Almulla, right, and Haya Darwish laugh together while riding the HOP bus to class in Boulder on Thursday. Via Mobility, which runs the HOP line, is starting to replace those buses with electric vehicles. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)