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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

STA giving all-electric buses a tryout

STA this month is testing an all-electric bus by BYD Co. Ltd., based in China. (Mike  Prager)

A shiny, new, all-electric Chinese bus is running on Spokane routes this month under a special demonstration through a U.S. branch of BYD Co. Ltd.

Spokane Transit Authority was invited to test the zero-emission bus as part of a statewide evaluation of battery power.

On Friday, it quietly pulled away from its boarding area at the STA Plaza in downtown, a sharp contrast to the diesels and hybrids that make up the STA fleet.

As it rolled up North Monroe Street, the driver and passengers gave mixed reviews.

“It’s pretty cool,” passenger Adrian Lerma said. “I’m excited about zero-emissions electric buses.”

Other passengers had complaints about the minimal padding on the seats and the different locations for buttons to request stops. “The seats are cheap,” one passenger said.

The driver explained that STA would order its own package of features if it decided to buy the buses.

Four STA drivers were trained for the BYD trials.

“I love it,” said the driver, who identified herself only as Marsha. “It’s smooth and quiet. It’s beautiful.”

The bus also operated last week on the North Nevada Street route.

This week it will run today through Friday on the North Division Street route from 10:42 a.m. to 7 p.m.

From there, it will go to other North Side routes through March 28, allowing a wide number of passengers to try it out.

Susan Meyer, chief executive officer at STA, said in a news release, “We are always interested in exploring environmentally-friendly, cost-effective fuel alternatives.”

STA is buying eight new conventional buses with energy-saving features. The agency opted not to continue purchases of Gillig electric hybrid buses based on overall costs.

The next round of purchases is set for 2018-19, Meyer said. So the STA board will have time to evaluate its options. At 40 feet, the electric bus is comparable in size to the existing Gillig buses.

The cost of the BYD bus can run as high as $1 million, said Beth Bousley, communications director for STA.

However, the website of ChinaDaily USA said the price would run from $550,000 to $650,000.

By comparison, the new Gillig diesel buses cost $435,000 each.

“We are looking at this very preliminarily,” Bousley said.

BYD is an international leader in battery and alternative-energy technology with investment backing from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway Inc.

The company last year announced it was opening two factories in Lancaster, Calif. – one to build its K9 electric bus and another to build its lithium iron phosphate battery modules.

Long Beach, Calif., and Los Angeles have signed contracts to purchase 35 of the buses, according to Bloomberg News.

“We are delighted to work with Spokane Transit,” Stella Li, president of BYD Motors, said in the news release.

“They have a visionary leadership team that desires not only the most reliable service, but also the most cost effective for their communities – we applaud their efforts to introduce a technology that will not harm the environment.”

BYD said the bus employs the industry’s first environmentally friendly and fire-safe battery chemistry. The iron battery produces 324 kilowatts. Its components are nontoxic. The bus battery has a range of 155 miles and up to 24 hours of run time on a single overnight charge.

The company said the battery will last 20 years past the average 12-year lifespan of the bus. The power unit then could be converted to other applications. The material is reported to be recyclable.

Restrictions put on highways in Idaho

Three North Idaho highways have been posted with weight and speed restrictions on heavy vehicles.

They are state Highway 3 from state Highway 97 to Interstate 90; state Highway 57 from Coolin Bay Road to the end of the highway; and state Highway 1.

The restrictions are designed to protect the road and travelers until warm spring weather can solidify the road base.

Meeting will cover High Drive condos

The Friends of the Bluff have scheduled a meeting on a proposed condominium development adjacent to the High Drive bluff park and trail system.

The meeting will be at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 5720 S. Perry St., Spokane. The group is concerned that construction on the property known as Tuscan Ridge would harm trail access and continuity.