For more than two hours on Tues. Aug. 30, Redding folks had a chance to catch sight of an all-electric bus touring some of the city’s major arteries.
It was hard to miss — 40 feet long, silvery and sleek, with foot-high lettering on both sides announcing what it was and what it could do: World’s First All Electric Long Range Over the Road Coach … 190 Miles. Lowest Operating Cost. No Emissions. Rapid Charge.
Its front end bore the company name BYD, and on its rear the model, C9, which is the equivalent of those inter-regional buses emblazoned with a running dog.
The bus carried about 20 passengers, mostly professionals from nonprofit organizations and government agencies. They boarded in the Redding Civic Auditorium parking lot, by invitation from Shasta Regional Transportation Agency.
Jennifer Pollom of Redding, senior transportation planner for the agency, said this demonstration of new transport technology was timed to coincide with the announcement of a grant.
“It was for capitalization funding for a commuter route between Redding and Sacramento,” she said during the ride. “The grant was not awarded, but BYD was willing to come up anyway. … I probably invited 100 people. We wanted a lot of people to experience and talk about the bus.”
Passengers climbed four steps to reach the coach floor, which felt solid underfoot. Everything inside looked new, from the rows of buttons dotting the dashboard, to the double rows of non-reclining bucket seats on each side of the center aisle. Each seat came with a seat belt that snugged its occupant into a soft, fabric cushion.
Morning sun lit the interior through clean, lightly tinted windows. Their panes were fixed and thinly framed for maximum view. Every vertical slat of frame bore a small red hammer, a window breaker to be used in case of emergency.
A veteran RABA driver sat down behind the wheel about 10 a.m. and began a scheduled test drive west on Highway 299 to Whiskeytown Lake, back to the auditorium lot, east on Highway 44 to Dignity Health’s Shasta Senior Nutrition Program, then ended back to the lot.
This bus made no sound until it began to roll, its movement accompanied by low-volume hum that rose in pitch as the vehicle increased speed. Even while seated over a motor, vibration was imperceptible.
Driver Brian Hopper said he liked the high-tech coach. “It’s very smooth and comfortable,” he said afterward. “It accelerates better than diesel vehicles. The braking is very similar. It handles exactly like the buses we have now.”
Also aboard was BYD Service Manager Victor Watkins, who arrived with the bus from the factory in Lancaster, California. Throughout the tour, he provided technical information to curious passengers.
Watkins said that instead of a gas gauge, the dashboard shows kilowatt hours remaining. There is no transmission; “gears” are programmed according the power needed to move the bus along the terrain. The rear wheels are directly run by twin motors.
“If one goes, we can still go with the other,” he said. “The top speed is 62 miles per hour. It won’t go any faster on level ground, but it can downhill. Going uphill takes more battery, but on the downhill we get it back through a generator.”
While the bus was parked at Whiskeytown Lake, Watkins shared some of the mechanics, particularly the charging system. “The battery is iron phosphate,” he said, opening a panel on the side of the bus to reveal a metal box the size of a washing machine, one of two. “On level ground it’ll run the bus 200 miles on a charge. It has a 12 year warranty with a 25 year life expectancy.”
Since Lancaster is more than 200 miles from Redding, and because there are no suitable charging stations along the freeway, the bus arrived on a trailer fully charged with 396 kilowatt hours, he said.
Beneath another side panel was a luggage compartment, from which Watkins pulled what he called a “gun,” a disconnected sample cable to show how to connect the bus to a charger. “On a 300-watt charger it will recharge in an hour,” he said.
Opening a door on the rear, Watkins showed two bi-directional powers inverters, and the power steering and the air braking system for four disc brakes. There is no need for oil. “We really don’t have that many moving parts,” he said.
Watkins said the operation cost comes in at $0.21 per mile. Literature available on the bus said this figure assumed $0.11 per kilowatt hour and a 1.22 kilowatt per mile power consumption rate.
John Duckett, Shasta Lake city manager, who said he recently road a conventional coach to a conference, rated the ride of this high-tech bus nice and smooth. “You can really feel the gasoline engine,” he said. “This is very smooth.”
Duckett said because the region has its own electric utility, it is interested in this technology. Asked about introducing electric buses for local transportation, he said he wasn’t sure. “Cost per mile is where it’s at,” he said.
Hallie Fonseca, general manager at Transdev, said she began driving buses 20 years ago. “I’m pretty excited about it,” she said of the demo. “The technology has come a long way since I’ve driven one.”
She explained that RABA has an old electric bus, acquired through the Clean Air Act, which she said is smaller and less powerful than the one she now rode. “It’s used primarily to shuttle drivers back and forth to the terminal, not on a fixed route,” she said.
She said the old electric model was as quiet as the BYD bus. Asked about implementation of all-electric for RABA, she said, “I’m not sure how far out that is. What’s the cost of fuel? What’s the cost for maintenance? You really have to look at that cost versus the other.”
During the first return to the auditorium parking lot, Mike Warren, president and CEO of Turtle Bay Exploration Park, gave a short talk to the passengers assembled in the shade outside the bus.
“Turtle Bay is preserving the environment,” he said. “We are about sustainability.”
He said an electric car charger will be part of the Sheridan Hotel now under construction adjacent to the park. “This fits right in,” he said of the all-electric bus.
While the bus was parked at Shasta Senior Nutrition Program, Executive Director Jennifer Powell said the organization runs a transportation system primarily for seniors and the disabled.
“We’re looking at a smaller version of this bus for our use,” she said. “We’re looking at all kinds of funding streams. … We don’t have the capital to buy right now.”
She said the buses they have right now, which run about 175 miles a day, are 13 years old and ready to be replaced. “For us to charge overnight, that’s fine for us,” she said. “When we are ready, since we need to buy anyway, electric would be ideal.”