The Keizer City Council voted 6-1 to support a grant request by Cherriots that might lead to purchasing five new electric buses.
Cherriots is applying for a Federal Transit Administration grant for low- or no-emission buses and charging infrastructure.
The grant request total is roughly $3.6 million, which includes the five buses at a cost of $716,000 each, said Colleen Busch, Keizer’s representative on the Salem-Keizer Transit District Board of Directors.
Councilor Dan Kohler said he had encountered stories about electric buses that made him wary of endorsing the project.
“I would like to look at the idea of electric buses and how much is it going to cost. Is it feasible, does it make sense? I hate to spend a bunch of money on something we don’t know the final cost of,” said Kohler. He was the lone dissenter when a vote was called.
In a study of electric bus costs and feasibility prepared by Columbia University for New York Transit in 2016, researchers found that electric buses have a higher initial investment, but save money over the lifespan of the bus.
“Typically, electric buses cost about $300,000 more than diesel buses, and annual savings are estimated at $39,000 per year over the 12-year lifetime of the bus, excluding health care cost benefits,” the study found. “The resulting health benefit to the populous of the city from the reduction of respiratory and other diseases is estimated at $150,000 per bus based on EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) data.”
Initial costs of battery electric buses has since fallen to $716,000, Busch said. A bus using compressed natural gas costs approximately $500,000.
The Columbia researchers concluded that the health care savings make the most compelling reason for switching to electric buses.
“I think it’s great that you’re being proactive and I think it’s the right direction to go. I’m thinking about my grandkids,” said Councilor Roland Herrera.
Busch said there was no guarantee that Cherriots would receive the grant and that it might be more “like getting in line for when the opportunity comes available.”
Mayor Cathy Clark welcomed the potential improvements, but lamented the continued funding of public transportation through grants.
“Buses should be looked at as infrastructure instead of funding them through grants. Like roads, they wear out,” Clark said.