Frederick County officials had the opportunity to show off their electric bus fleet and solar array at the county landfill to Congressmen from both coasts Friday afternoon.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D), acting Director of Transit Services Roman Steichen and several other county officials toured the transit center and solar array with Reps. David Trone (D-Md.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) as the latter two learned about how the county has incorporated electric energy from that array into its bus fleet.
Steichen said the county has five refurbished buses, which they started using in spring 2016. Those cost $2.8 million, and the electric station infrastructure cost $161,000, he added.
The county will soon add a bus “built from the ground up,” worth $542,000, he said. And three additional buses will also be added in April, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the federal government.
Before the tour, Trone and Larsen asked Steichen and county officials several questions about the county’s fleet and bus routes. Larsen said afterward he was impressed by the county’s electric bus fleet — including the fact those vehicles draw their power from a solar array at the county landfill.
He hopes a transit agency in his district in Whatcom County can incorporate that technology.
“What I’m looking forward to seeing here ... is how you all are incorporating your electric bus fleet into the charging station infrastructure,” Larsen said before the tours Friday. “And how that charging station infrastructure as well [as] the solar array, supports a lot of other government functions. That’s pretty unique.”
Steichen credited Nancy Norris, the former director of the Transit Services Division who retired Friday, for implementing the move to electric buses, along with other improvements.
Those improvements include mobile fare payment, tracking bus locations on mobile phones and moving the fleet toward electric vehicles, he said.
“She was pretty innovative and in recent years, she’s moved us out of the ‘quote’ stone ages,” Steichen said.
One of the main challenges discussed Friday was the lifespan of electric bus batteries.
Steichen said currently, the five refurbished buses can go for a couple of hours, but then need to be charged during the lunch hours before an afternoon shift. The new bus will probably be able to handle an eight-hour shift on a full charge.
Depending on conditions, the buses take four to five hours to charge, he said.
One of the other issues officials discussed was paratransit funding. Gardner said she added one bust his past year to handle demand, as many riders need the service to get to dialysis appointments.
But before the bus tour, she said the county needs three more buses to keep up with current demand.
“As the population ages and they’re living longer, and they’re living because of dialysis and other medical advances, it becomes a much more important need for our county,” Gardner said. “And my guess is it’s true for every county across the country.”
Regarding the overall fleet and solar array, Trone said he was pleased to see how Frederick County is incorporating newer technology.
“We can build roads forever, but we got to have transit,” he said. “We got to have good solid mass transit with that carbon neutral footprint. … This is a major step in the right direction. And the [federal] government’s got to be a part of this, because the counties cannot absorb the huge costs.”
Larsen, who sits on Congress’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said Frederick County should be in a good position to obtain future grant funding.
“It will be important for Frederick County to have its story down pat, because these dollars are usually competitive grant dollars,” Larsen said. “But showing one, the need, and second, the success of what you’re done before, can be very helpful in putting the county in a successful position.”