City takes small step toward zero emission bus fleet

(Caldwell Administration)
(Caldwell Administration)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mayor Kirk Caldwell recently posed for a picture in front of an electric bus in San Francisco. A year ago, he toured an electric bus operation in Miami.

By the end of the year, he wants to have one electric bus doing test runs on Oahu.

"We want to start now. Then in the next fiscal year, 2019, to start acquiring buses and start to replace our fleet," he said.

The city is serious about a bus fleet with zero emissions. To start the wheels, turning the City Council appropriated $10 million in this year's budget.

"For the remainder of the year what I would like to do is develop more policies around setting some energy goals and some zero emissions goals for us," Budget Committee chairman Joey Manahan said.

An electric bus costs about $700,000, same as a hybrid but about $100,000 more than diesel models. The city's banking on prices coming down as technology improves.

But city Department of Transportation Services deputy director Jon Nouchi said the city won't wait for all its diesel buses to become obsolete before making the move.

"We're trying to capture the moment very soon to get the best in technology that we can, and also mitigate where we can the extra cost of the vehicle," he said.

An electric bus has no engine, fuel, cooling and exhaust system. Manahan said that could save the city $250,000 in repair and maintenance costs over the lifetime of each electric bus.

On average an electric bus can go about 200 miles on a full charge. A fleet will need its own charging stations.

Hawaiian Electric Company's senior spokesman Peter Rosegg said the buses will help use up excess solar power that fed into the grid.

"We have an awful lot of solar coming into the system and available on the system in the middle of the day -- 10 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. Electric buses would be a perfect way to use a good chunk of that," he said.

Caldwell wants to have the city well on the way to replacing its buses with electric models before his term as mayor ends. He's already envisioning routes.

"I'd like to roll these buses out first in town and Waikiki, where we have buildings closer together, where these diesel buses make a lot of noise," he said.

A complete changeover to electric buses will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of the money will come from the federal government.

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