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A salesman for the California-based Proterra electric bus company asked a crowd of about 40 leaders from transit and government agencies where they wanted to ride to test the vehicle.
"If you want to show what it can do, head up to the State Capitol," suggested John Inglish, former CEO of the Utah Transit Authority.
The bus packed nearly full and with the air conditioning running easily cruised up and around Capitol Hill with no slowing or loss of power. It also had zero emissions, and almost no noise. And maybe it shows the future of mass transit.
Proterra staged the demonstration of its vehicle Monday for the UTA and other transit districts in Park City and Cache County.
Utahns may see the bus on streets over the next week or so. UTA has agreed to allow the electric bus to shadow regular buses on routes 200 (on Salt Lake County's State Street) and 39 (on 3900 South, including some steep hills), but they won't be carrying passengers.
Officials will be collecting a variety of data to measure its costs and performance.
"There are no plans to purchase electric buses at this time, but they are being tested for efficiency and cost analysis," UTA spokesman Remi Barron said.
Matt Horton, vice president of sales and marketing for Proterra, said the company has sold electric buses to 16 transit agencies nationwide. He has talked to about 100 other agencies that are looking at adding electric buses to their fleets within the next few years.
The company advertises that its buses get the equivalent of 23 miles per gallon (based on the use of electricity to recharge batteries), have zero emissions and can save $365,000 per vehicle lifetime on fuel costs compared to diesel buses. They have a hefty price tag: $750,000 to $825,000 depending on the configuration, with cheaper versions and leasing options available, said Lee Wixon, Proterra regional sales manager. In comparison, diesel-fueled buses sell in the range of $300,000 each.
Besides looking at the possibility of electric buses, Barron said UTA has been taking other steps toward cleaner and cheaper fuels.
Two years ago, it started buying new buses fueled by compressed natural gas which now account for 7 percent of its fleet. New clean diesel buses also make up 42 percent of the fleet. About 6 percent of UTA's buses are hybrids. And older diesel buses still comprise 45 percent of the fleet.