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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane ready to add electric buses to STA fleet

UPDATED: Tue., June 18, 2019

Spokane Transit Authority is getting two new electric buses thanks to settlement money from Volkswagen’s emission scandal. STA is officially opening its new electric bus garage on Cedar Street near Boone Avenue in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Transit Authority is getting two new electric buses thanks to settlement money from Volkswagen’s emission scandal. STA is officially opening its new electric bus garage on Cedar Street near Boone Avenue in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Things are electric this week for Spokane Transit Authority.

Two fully electric buses will be added to STA’s fleet, paid for with proceeds from Volkswagen’s diesel-vehicle scandal and subsequent financial settlements. On Thursday, the local transit agency will officially open its new 68,640-square-foot Cedar Street garage, where the agency’s growing electrified fleet – including the new buses and the Central City Line vehicles – will be housed.

The new electric buses will be thanks to fallout from the German automaker’s efforts to evade diesel emissions tests aimed at restricting harmful nitrogen oxides. The car company has faced legal and financial repercussions around the world due to its efforts to mask emissions in 11 million of its vehicles. In 2016, Volkswagen settled violations of the state and federal Clean Air acts, and Washington state will receive $140 million from the settlements.

The emissions scandal jump-started electrification of STA’s vehicles. The new buses will expand STA’s fully electric fleet to exactly three vehicles, adding to the agency’s first electric bus, which also will be purchased with Volkswagen settlement money. The agency is currently studying the benefits and drawbacks of an electric fleet. It has hired the Center for Transportation Excellence, a transit policy research group, to analyze how the city’s seasonal weather and topography would affect such a fleet. The agency is waiting until the study is complete to purchase the vehicles.

Andrew Wineke, spokesman with the state Department of Ecology, said the state was spreading the money around to various transit agencies to share the benefits of electric transportation.

“Not everyone can buy a Tesla, but everyone can ride a bus,” Wineke said, noting that the money won’t transform STA’s entire vehicle collection. “It’s still a small fraction of the entire fleet, but we’re really helping them get beyond that initial step.”

In December, STA was awarded a $500,000 state Department of Ecology grant to help cover the difference in cost between a standard diesel bus and an electric bus. The money came from Volkswagen’s $28.4 million settlement with the state.

The latest round of funding comes from the $112.7 million federal settlement. The first round of grants from the federal settlement amounts to $13.3 million; it will help local transit agencies buy 50 zero-emission, battery-powered electric buses, including 23 for King County Metro Transit and 11 for Everett Transit in Snohomish County.

Heavy-duty diesel engines in buses and trucks make up about a third of all diesel emissions in the state, according to the Department of Ecology. By replacing the 50 buses, about 68,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be eliminated. Nitrogen oxide emissions will be cut by 70 tons over the lifetime of the vehicles.

The remaining federal dollars will be spent on building electric vehicle infrastructure, transforming the state’s diesel-fueled ferries and other ocean-going vessels, and electrifying other heavy duty vehicles.

“This is our first grant award from the federal settlement. We are just starting. We’re trying to make sure we leverage the money and get the biggest bang for our buck,” Wineke said. “There’s another big chunk that will be put into charging infrastructure” for private vehicles.

“There are lots of efforts going to electric vehicle infrastructure,” he said.

One of those efforts can be seen on Cedar Street, just north of Boone Avenue: a $7.5 million garage paid for by a local sales and use tax approved by voters in 2016 to fund STA’s Moving Forward plan.

The Boone Northwest Garage, as it’s called, was “built with fleet electrification in mind,” said Brandon Rapez-Betty, STA’s spokesman. It will support the 10 vehicles that will be used on the all-electric Central City Line, a fixed-route bus rapid transit line between Browne’s Addition and Spokane Community College. It will also have nine electric buses, which will be used on STA’s high-performance transit network, beginning with the Monroe-Regal line, but extending later to Spokane Valley on Interstate 90, North Division, Cheney and East Sprague. STA anticipates the new high-performance line on Monroe-Regal will generate 200,000 new rides a year.

Beside the vehicle charging infrastructure in the garage, the site also has underground fuel storage of up to 20,000 gallons.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 to clarify that the electric buses have not yet been purchased.

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