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King County’s $130M electric bus purchase called ‘one of the leading moves in zero emissions for transit’

King County Metro has committed to spend about $50 million on 40 battery-electric buses to be delivered in 2021, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Thursday.

The agency has plans to buy another 80 battery-electric buses that would arrive in fall 2022, further advancing its goal to use a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040. Metro estimates the 120 buses would cost $130 million in total.

King County Metro is purchasing the buses from New Flyer, which has supplied the agency with more than 1,800 buses since 1979, according to a news release. More than half of those have been hybrid-electric or zero-emission, including the trolley electric buses that connect to wires and run through much of downtown.

The new buses won’t require that infrastructure to run and will be able to stay on-route for up to 18 hours without recharging, according to New Flyer Director of Sustainable Transportation David Warren. The purchase follows a one-year program to test four of the battery-electric buses to ensure they met King County Metro’s performance requirements.

“Those buses have almost 500 kilowatt hour of batteries onboard. To put (that) in perspective, that would be maybe seven times as much batteries as you would find on typical electric vehicle,” Warren said. “These buses, with a range of 140 miles, are really a remarkable advancement for how you can use zero emissions.”

Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, New Flyer has been manufacturing zero-emission buses for more than 50 years, Warren said. Warren and about 20 New Flyer employees are based in Washington, mainly at a Renton service center that supports King County Metro operations.

New Flyer has sold Los Angeles Metro 40 similar buses, and New York City plans to use about 15 of them for a route between the Bronx and LaGuardia Airport.

“The tech is proven in some other cities,” Warren said. “The scale, up to 120 buses: That is a really significant commitment toward zero emissions and all the benefits that go along with that. I would absolutely characterize what occurred today as one of the leading moves in zero emissions for transit.”

About 10 percent of New Flyer’s business is in electric buses after rapid growth over the past three years spurred by King County Metro’s leadership, Warren said. It’s likely the company will eventually shift to majority battery-electric and all-electric buses, he said.

The upfront cost of the electric buses with batteries and electric propulsions is more than diesel or former electric-bus iterations, but Warren said over the vehicles’ lifetimes that will be recovered in energy and maintenance savings, particularly in the Northwest, where there are many renewable energy options.

“We do view King County Metro as one of the most influential transit agencies in North America,” Warren said. “It takes a lot of leadership to do a diligent test program like they’ve done to make sure these products meet their needs.”

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