Orange County’s public transit system has received a $2.5 million federal grant for 10 new electric-powered buses for people with disabilities, another sign of the local push to make transportation more environmentally friendly.
The federal funding will help replace 10 gasoline OC Access vehicles with zero-emission “paratransit buses” for people with physical or cognitive difficulties.
The Federal Transit Administration announced the financing to the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) earlier this month. It’s all part of an OCTA push to transition to emission-free vehicles throughout its fleet by the state’s requirements.
“Because the smaller 22-foot paratransit buses run on gasoline, the goal is to eventually replace all of the OC Access buses by the 2040 timeline,” OCTA spokesman Eric Carpenter told the Business Journal on Aug. 17.
As part of the pilot program for the OC Access buses, the funding will help pay for the associated infrastructure needed to charge the paratransit buses.
The overall project cost is approximately $5 million, with additional OCTA funding identified to cover the cost.
The money from Washington is part of nearly $1.7 billion in federal funding being awarded to transit agencies nationwide—$236 million throughout California—available through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in late 2021.
OCTA’s paratransit bus service provides approximately 1.5 million boardings annually.
The authority has been working toward a zero-emission future with its bus fleet by 2040.
“With help from federal and state funding, OCTA has begun transitioning it regular bus fleet with 20 zero-emission buses so far,” according to Carpenter.
In early 2020, OCTA introduced the first 10 hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses into its regular fleet and built the largest hydrogen fueling station for transit in the nation at its Santa Ana bus base.
Then, earlier this year, OCTA began testing the first two of 10 plug-in electric buses. The pilot programs are helping the agency determine which technology, or mix of technologies, will perform best on Orange County streets.
“The pilot programs for both the hydrogen fuel-cell electric and plug-in electric buses are going well,” according to Carpenter.
He added: “Each technology is being tested for how the buses perform in real-life circumstances on Orange County streets. We’re still relatively early in the process.”
OCTA’s current regular bus fleet runs primarily on renewable compressed-natural gas (CNG) with Cummins near zero-emission engines.
Carpenter said OCTA is on target to meet the state’s 2040 zero-emission goal and “will gradually begin transitioning with future large bus purchases as the CNG buses reach the end of their scheduled lifespan.”
In 2020, OCTA also purchased 55 battery-electric vehicles—zero-emission Chevy Bolts—that support bus operations in the field. Previously these support vehicles ran on compressed natural gas.
OCTA has approximately 500 buses in operation on regular routes and 246 OC Access paratransit buses in operation.