Visalia Transit’s fleet is about to become a whole lot greener by saving some green on six low-emission buses and applying for grants to purchase up to six zero-emission electric buses.
At its Jan. 4 meeting, the Visalia City Council authorized the transfer of two 2009 Orion VII and four 2006 Orion VII 35-foot compressed natural gas (CNG) buses from The Bus, the Transit Powers Agreement for Merced County. Expected to arrive next month, the City of Visalia will not pay anything for the buses as they were originally purchased with federal transportation funding.
These used CNG buses will replace diesel buses on the Visalia Transit fixed routes throughout the city and between Visalia, Farmersville and Exeter. Three 2004 Gillig Diesel buses from the fixed route will be moved later this year for use by the Sequoia Shuttle, which departs from locations in Visalia, Exeter and Three Rivers to popular tourist destinations in Sequoia National Park daily during the summer months. Three more 2004 Gillig Diesel buses will be used as the reserve fleet for future Sequoia Shuttle use in 2017-2018.
The move will allow the City to dispose of two older diesel buses (two 1994 and one 1996 Gillig Diesel buses) which have been in operation in the Visalia Fixed Route for 14 to 15 years and the Sequoia Shuttle operation for the last 5 to 6 years. These buses will be sold at U.S. Auctions sometime in March or later in the year with the proceeds being deposited back into the Transit division fund.
The rest of the City’s diesel buses will be replaced by new 2016 Gillig CNG buses. These are five of the seven buses that were authorized for purchase by the City Council in 2014. The other two new CNG buses will be used on various routes and to support a new bus route operating primarily on Demaree Street and Whitendale Avenue between Mooney/Orchard and Riggin/Demaree. The two CNG buses on the new route are expected to begin operating in July or August while the five remaining should begin routes in October or November 2016.
As part of a sweeping measure to upgrade its bus fleet, the City Council also authorized staff to apply for grants to purchase up to six electric buses through an application process involving several transit agencies under the umbrella of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD). As part of the two grant programs funded by the California Air Resource Board (CARB), the City also agreed to appropriate $725,400 from its Transit Proposition 1B money as matching funds. If successful, these buses would potentially be purchased either from Proterra or Complete Coach Works (CCW) and delivered in 2017 and 2018. In other words, the City would increase its transit vehicles by $5 million with a appropriation of its share of state tax money totaling just $725,000.
The transit plan approved the Council would bring Visalia Transit in compliance with a new rule expected to be approved by CARB in the coming months. Under the proposed rule, all transit agencies would be required to pursue zero emission buses wherever possible and to be 100% converted by 2040.
The City currently owns 75 buses of various ages and sizes to provide services that include Visalia Transit Fixed Route & Dial-A-Ride, Visalia Towne Trolley, Visalia LOOP Bus, Sequoia Shuttle and the V-LINE, a long-distance route connecting the cities of Visalia and Fresno.
The series of actions by the Council, which was approved on the consent calendar, establishthe consent calendar, establishes a replacement schedule for each type of bus, estimated replacement costs and a financial plan for acquiring the funds to make the required purchases.
Since the beginning of the City transit service, no General Fund dollars have been required to support the Transit services. As federal and state funding mechanisms have changed over the years, staff has adjusted our efforts and sought out new ways of meeting our needs. In general, federal and state funding sources have not kept pace with the City’s growth and resulting demand for more transit services. The strategies implemented by staff, with Council’s concurrence, include keeping vehicles beyond their required useful life, delaying implementation of new routes, and repurposing buses after they have been officially replaced.