Double-decker transit buses may be an icon in London and a mainstay in other European cities, but not so much in the US of A and especially not in Los Angeles, the city of the car.
However a Transit company in LA announced this week that it would add a pair of double-decker buses to its fleet serving commuters in the San Gabriel Valley just outside the California metropolis and the fact that they’re electric makes them a double novelty.
Doran Barnes, executive director of Foothill Transit says that electric vehicles are there but that there are still things to be learned and that they’relearning in and leading the industry in advancing the technology.
Foothill Transit is the first transit agency in North America to use all-electric double-decker buses. Already, about a third of the compnay’s 370-bus fleet is electric, and it plans to go entirely electric by 2030.
The double-deck buses can carry 80 passengers in the same footprint as a 38-passenger single-deck bus, Barnes said. In an increasingly congested part of the country where every inch of road space counts, stacking passengers holds the potential to reduce traffic congestion.
Doing that on an electric platform also helps one of the region’s other entrenched issues, air pollution.
In the USA the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that electric buses were eight times more energy efficient than those running on natural gas.
The British bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis is building the double deckers at its plant in Indiana using a Proterra battery system made in California and Foothill Transit will add the buses to its fleet next year.
Proterra which makes electric buses of its own and is a major supplier of single deck buses to Foothill was approached to build a double decker for the company but will only supply the battery systems
“We wanted to help Foothill, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to develop a double-decker bus,” said Ryan Popple, chief executive of Proterra, one of two major electric bus manufacturers based in California.
Proterra has built several of the 40-foot, single-level electric buses Foothill Transit already has in service. However for the electric double decker, Proterra is only providing the battery system, which is capable of up to 360 km per charge.
“This is an outside-the-box strategic move, we haven’t seen double deckers in transit service in this country, and you throw electric on and it’s really quite a novelty,” ,” said Joseph Schwieterman, a bus transportation expert from DePaul University in Chicago. “
Foothill is one of dozens of transit agencies throughout the USA that has committed to electric buses. California transit agencies are the largest consumer of electric transit buses in America.
The number of battery-electric buses delivered to U.S. public transit agencies grew 83 per cent in 2017. Although market penetration is just 0.5 percent of the total U.S. public transit bus market, nine per cent of the country’s transit agencies already have electric buses in service or have ordered them.
Foothill Transit started looking into double deckers a few years ago as a way to replace its 60-foot articulated buses.