Vail is embarking on a new era in its zero-emissions goals with introduction of its first-ever battery electric buses. The Vail Town Council received a preview of the operations during a behind-the-scenes tour prior to the start of the April 6 virtual meeting. The tour included a visit to the bus barn, a test ride and an overview from Fleet Manager Jeff Darnall, Public Works and Transportation Director Greg Hall, Parking and Transit Manager Mike Rose and Director of Environmental Sustainability Kristen Bertuglia.
In all, four battery electric buses are being added to the Vail Transit fleet, representing a major milestone in Vail’s goal to transition 100% of its 33 buses to a clean energy fleet by the year 2032. Two of the buses will be put into service beginning April 7 and will be used on the in-town route while mechanics evaluate their performance and maintenance requirements.
“This is a significant step forward in meeting our Climate Action goals for the future,” said Mayor Dave Chapin. “The transportation sector is the second highest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in Vail and the top contributor in Eagle County. Transitioning to electric vehicles will greatly reduce emissions and is one of the most effective ways to achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and 80% by 2050.”
The town has been preparing for the transition since 2017 after researching various manufacturers and testing the reliability of battery electric buses during a series of high-altitude demonstrations. The town contracted with Gilig, LLC, one of the leading manufacturers of heavy-duty transit buses in the U.S., to supply the four buses. A Federal Transit Administration grant of $525,288 is being used to help offset a portion of the cost which totals approximately $860,000 per bus. A second grant of $1.1 million, supplied by Colorado Department of Transportation, has been used to fund infrastructure upgrades at the town’s bus barn to fully support the transition to a zero-emissions fleet. An additional charging station has been installed at the Vail Transportation Center to service the fleet.
Equipped with six onboard batteries, each bus is powered by 100% renewable energy, and can be fully charged in under four hours. The bus uses a regenerative braking system that helps it reach an estimated travel range of up to 150 miles on a single charge. In comparison, the hybrid buses currently in service use an average of 3,155 gallons of diesel fuel a year. Passengers should enjoy a noticeably quieter ride on the new battery electric buses.
“Gillig has partnered with Vail since 2006 to supply the most reliable buses under extreme weather conditions,” said Bill Fay, Gillig vice president of sales. “We are grateful to be their partner of choice for providing the best-in-class zero-emission buses for their community.”
The transition to battery electric buses is one of numerous initiatives taking place as part of the Eagle County Climate Action Plan. Other transportation actions include: encouraging adoption of electric vehicles and participation in the annual EV Share events to provide additional incentives and discounts for purchasing EV’s, improving the electric vehicle charging corridor by adding additional Level 2 and Level 3 electric vehicle charging stations, implementing the Sole Power Green Commuting Challenge for Eagle County to encourage human powered commuting (walking, biking, skating, etc.), implementing a behavior change campaign to reduce single occupancy vehicles on the road through smart commuting twice a week such as taking the bus, carpooling, biking, and working remotely, and exploring electric bike share programs and electric bike ownership programs.
Town of Vail is also exploring the development of an EV readiness plan and commitment to become a Go EV City.