The Orange County Transportation Authority says its buses will meet the state’s zero-emission mandate by 2040, and it’s seeking the best type of technology to get the fleet there.
The two options now under consideration are hydrogen fuel-cell electric and plug-in battery-electric technologies, or it could be the “best mix of technologies,” OCTA said, with some bus testing already underway and more to come.
“This will give us a great opportunity to review both technologies in use and understand their operating parameters,” said Jennifer Bergener, OCTA deputy chief executive.
She said the goal is to see “which best meets OCTA’s needs to provide transportation to the county, whether that’s one of them or both of them in some fashion.”
OCTA’s zero-emission bus rollout plan, approved by the agency’s board of directors last month, will now be submitted to the California Air Resource Board.
OCTA started a test of 10 zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell buses early this year, a $22.9 million investment. “We are in the process of procuring 10 battery electric buses which we will also put into service as soon as they are test-commissioned and ready,” according to Bergener.
Hydrogen fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen, producing electricity, water and heat.
The cells “emit only water, so there are no carbon dioxide emissions and no air pollutants that create smog and cause health problems at the point of operation,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The plug-in battery-electric buses, which are 40 feet long, are expected to begin operation in Orange County in late 2021 and will use recharging stations at night at the bus bases.
OCTA operates more than 500 buses in the regular OC Bus system across Orange County, all of them using “near-zero-emission” compressed natural gas.
“We are not running any diesel buses now,” Bergener said.
OCTA serves all of Orange County through the bus network, from La Habra and Seal Beach to San Clemente.
OCTA will begin phasing in the purchase of zero-emission buses as part of future bus procurements beginning in 2023. At the same time, staff will continue to analyze emerging technologies and work with partners to secure funding for purchase, operations and maintenance of the buses.
State Law, COVID
The California Innovative Clean Transit Rule has set a requirement to transition to complete zero-emission transit within the next 20 years, according to the OCTA.
“I wish every day that more people would take the bus,” said Bergener, whose agency has cut back service during the pandemic; it now offers modified service throughout the week. They are also boarding fewer passengers per bus to provide more room for social distancing.
“We work every day to draw in more passengers and make the service more viable for them.”
There are no immediate plans now to expand the number of buses, once operations return to normal, she said.
“We’re running a fairly robust, county-wide service that provides good frequency for those passengers on it,” she said. “We are always in a state of continuous improvement.”