TriMet has started operating its first completely electric bus, marking a major step forward in the transit agency’s push to have a full non-diesel bus fleet by 2040.

Officials from TriMet and Portland General Electric (PGE) unveiled the two electric buses, or "e-buses," Tuesday morning outside TriMet’s operating facility in Beaverton. PGE will provide wind energy for the buses, which will be the country's first completely wind-powered public buses.

Humans applauding for an electric bus, AKA the future.
Humans applauding for an electric bus, AKA the future. BLAIR STENVICK

The location was fitting, as the first TriMet e-bus in operation is serving Line 62, which connects the Sunset Transit Center to the Washington Square Transit Center (two Washington County locales). TriMet plans to add four more e-buses to its operational fleet this year. The total cost of the five new buses is $3.5 million.

“Every electric bus means no diesel pollution in our air,” said Meredith Connolly, director of the nonprofit Oregon Climate Solutions, at the unveiling. “That’s how we make change for the better.”

Specifically, each new e-bus will cut about a million pounds of carbon emissions each year, and save TriMet a projected $400,000 on fuel costs over its 12-year lifespan. As TriMet officials pointed out, public transit is one of the country’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases (in addition to private corporations) so switching to e-buses could put a serious dent in Portland’s carbon footprint.

TriMet’s e-buses last up to 80 miles a charge. That means that after one completes a round tip of the Line 62 route, roughly a third of its energy will be depleted. Through a partnership with PGE, TriMet has installed chargers at both Beaverton's Merlo operating facility and the Sunset Transit Center. The Sunset charger, which a TriMet official called “the most powerful charger we can buy,” can fully charge an e-bus in 30 minutes; a more standard charger, such as the one at the Merlo facility, takes about four hours.

Sunset Transit Center is home to an electric bus supercharger, which can provide a full charge in just 30 minutes.
Sunset Transit Center is home to an electric bus "supercharger," which can provide a full charge in just 30 minutes. BLAIR STENVICK

As TriMet continues its journey to use all non-diesel buses in the next 20 years, it will need to make considerable infrastructure investments to make sure those buses are charged for everyday service. TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey noted that today’s inaugural e-bus trip marked “just the beginning, for TriMet, of a very complex journey.”

TriMet plans to purchase 80 additional e-buses over the next five or six years. Much of the funding for those buses will come from Governor Kate Brown’s landmark 2017 transportation package.

Connolly thanked TriMet during her remarks for its commitment to soon put e-buses on “the routes hit hardest by transportation pollution.” Air pollution is an especially serious problem for Portland neighborhoods east of 82nd Ave—like Lents, for example.

“This impacts our communities of color and our low-incomes residents the most,” Connolly said.

Those in attendance at the unveiling got a chance to ride the new e-bus. It looked like a thoroughly regular TriMet bus on the inside, though it certainly smelled better—and was noticeably more quiet than its diesel counterparts.

TriMet’s e-bus unveiling comes just a week after the agency announced it will bring articulated buses to SE Division’s Line 2 route.