“This is a great opportunity for us to plan for a healthier future that will include both reliable transportation and no potentially harmful emissions into our environment,” says Steve Jones, chairman at OCTA and mayor of Garden Grove.
“We are accomplishing two important goals at the same time,” he adds.
OCTA has already gradually transitioned its fleet over the years, from diesel-burning buses to clean-burning renewable compressed natural gas (CNG) buses with near-zero-emission engines. The state has set a requirement to transition to complete zero-emission transit within the next 20 years.
OCTA’s zero-emission bus rollout plan, recently approved by the board of directors, will now be submitted to the California Air Resources Board. The plan is not a commitment to a specific type of technology, at this point. OCTA is in the process of testing both hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses and plug-in battery-electric buses to determine which technology best meets OCTA’s needs related to operations, maintenance and cost, among other things.
In April, OCTA’s board of directors approved a request for quotes to purchase 10 plug-in battery-electric buses. The pilot program for the battery-electric 40-foot buses comes following OCTA’s debut of 10 new hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses.
These hydrogen fuel-cell buses, which also create zero emissions, began operating in January, when OCTA debuted its hydrogen fueling station in Santa Ana, Calif. In all, it represented a $22.9 million investment. More than half of that funding – $12.5 million – came from California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment – particularly in disadvantaged communities.
Testing both hydrogen fuel-cell and plug-in battery-electric buses will allow OCTA to collect valuable data and to determine which technology – or the best mix of technologies – to pursue moving forward.
OCTA operates more than 500 buses in the regular OC Bus system across Orange County. For now, most of those buses run on CNG, but OCTA is working toward the goal of producing zero emissions.
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.
The effort aligns with California’s Innovative Clean Transit Rule, which sets a goal for public transit agencies to gradually transition to 100% zero-emission bus fleets by 2040. The Innovative Clean Transit Rule is part of the state’s comprehensive program helping to achieve California’s air quality and climate goals.
The hydrogen fuel-cell buses continue to be tested on routes throughout Orange County. The plug-in battery-electric buses are expected to begin operation in Orange County in late 2021.