Friday, February 24, 2017

In Historic First, Pinellas Transit Purchases Two Zero-Emission Electric Buses

Clean, quiet electric buses to begin service in downtown St. Pete early 2018. 

BYD reps were joined by PSTA CEO Brad Miller, PSTA Finance Committee Chair Joe Barkley and
Sierra Club's Phil Compton and Craig McCorkle after board vote approving purchase of PSTA's 1st 2 electric buses. 
Almost two years after being introduced to the technology by Sierra Club, the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) voted 9-5 Wednesday, in an historic first, to buy two all-electric buses from manufacturer BYD. PSTA will use the buses to provide a clean, quiet ride to popular waterfront shops and restaurants on St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive, the Tampa Bay region’s most beautiful and challenging urban location to park a car.

Miller with Pinellas Co. Comm. Pat
Gerard and BYD's John Hatch. 
Clearwater City Councilman Bill Jonson, an initial skeptic, supported the transit agency’s embrace of this emerging technology. Finance Committee Chair Joe Barkley of Belleair Bluffs pointed out how zero emission electric buses’ substantially lower operating expense, both fuel and maintenance, lets the agency save taxpayers funds that can help cover the cost of the more expensive diesel fuel used by the rest of PSTA’s fleet, while at the same time eliminating noise and air pollution.
As at every meeting where bus purchases have been discussed in the past two years, Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign activists spoke in favor of electric buses over diesel. Sierra Club set up the first electric bus manufacturer’s presentation for PSTA staff and board in May 2015. And as with each of the six electric bus demos at PSTA in the past two years, the media turned out to cover this exciting new way to travel the county's roads without the noise and pollution that give transit a bad name.

Through a campaign of education and advocacy, Sierra Club and its many allies in the Tampa Bay Zero Emission Coalition provided PSTA with accurate, up to date information on this new clean and quiet alternative. Despite persistent opposition from a handful of board members, one of whom equated electric buses with “burning banana peels for fuel”, the agency now recognizes that its industry is moving forward to embrace this new technology that many say will completely replace diesel within the next two decades. 

"I love this bus!" Suncoast Sierra leader
Lucinda Johnston tells environmental
business consultant Tara LaSalla. Johnston
plans to offer BYD electric bus test rides at
Earth Day event in downtown St. Pete. 
Practically all of America’s three dozen other transit agencies now making the switch to electric buses have done so by winning a special federal grant. PSTA’s higher initial cost for electric buses was instead offset by an allocation of $589,000 from the Pinellas County Commission’s BP gulf oil disaster settlement fund. Sierra Club supported the Commission’s use of these funds to pay for an on route charging system that will provide seamless service. This will make it possible for PSTA to continue to add more electric buses, with no additional cost for charging infrastructure, creating the potential for an affordable, all-electric fleet of BYD buses to soon serve more areas of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
Members of Sierra's Healthy Air
Campaign team celebrate victory
for healthier air for everyone. 
Sierra Club Senior Organizing Representative Phil Compton said of the decision: "Downtown St. Pete's busy streets are a great place for PSTA to begin electric bus service. These buses don't have tailpipes, and today the electricity they use creates just 20% of the carbon emitted by any new diesel or natural gas bus. That percentage will steadily decline towards zero % for electric buses as we add more solar to the grid, while all other types of buses stay just as dirty as they are today. Eliminating unhealthy smog and carbon emissions from diesel buses is consistent with St. Petersburg's commitment to completely end all use of fossil fuels in the community. PSTA will be a great partner with Duke Energy and the City to make this switch away from oil consumption, just as the entire city moves from coal and natural gas to solar and energy efficient buildings. Today PSTA shows the way for St. Pete and Pinellas County truly being ready for 100% clean energy for all." 
PSTA is Florida’s second transit agency to go electric joining Tallahassee’s StarMetro, which has been running five Proterra electric buses for the past five years for FSU and FAMU students. PSTA chose to go with the world’s leading manufacturer of electric vehicles, BYD: “The Official Sponsor of Mother Nature”. BYD will install its inductive charging system along a newly revised Downtown Looper route that will include Beach Drive. PSTA could begin electric bus service as early as January, 2018. 

Thanks to Healthy Air Campaign team leader Tom Krumreich for use of his photos. 

Phil Compton, Senior Organizing Representative, Sierra Club's FL Healthy Air Campaign
1990 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, FL 33712