Ecoliners seamlessly integrate for full service

The Proterra EcoRide BE35 was dubbed the Ecoliner by Foothill Transit.
The Proterra EcoRide BE35 was dubbed the Ecoliner by Foothill Transit.


Foothill Transit sees great success from its zero-emission buses

By Richard Tackett

Three Proterra 35-foot EcoRide BE35s, dubbed the Ecoliners by Foothill Transit, West Covina, CA, have been running a busy route in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys since September 2010. It was Proterra’s first major deployment of the zero-emission bus.
Felicia Friesema, marketing and communications manager at Foothill Transit, says that fuel savings and air quality had a lot to do with the agency’s order.
“The agency was looking for new technology, but it had to make sense,” she says. “When this technology presented itself, it presented a great way to test the viability of electric vehicles.”
The buses currently service Line 291, which Friesema says is a heavy-duty route that includes a hospital, a few schools and a major shopping center. She says the agency chose this line because it would showcase the vehicles’ durability and charging power. While feedback has been positive, Friesema says the agency’s goal is seamless integration. The best case scenario is that customers hardly notice what they’re riding.
“We did initially receive positive feedback, but it fit very seamlessly into our system,” she says. “Most of the time when we hear from customers, it isn’t because we’re doing a great job. There haven’t been any major complaints about the Ecoliner. The compliments we did receive were about how it looks. It has a more modern and advanced shell design. It’s really quite an interesting look. It provides more positive visibility for public transportation in our neighborhoods.”
Green on the street
The bus requires a 10 minute charge at a transit center’s docking station before it’s ready to run for a full 24 hours. Friesema says that the first and sometimes only thing customers notice is how quiet the bus is.
“The loudest thing on board is the air conditioner,” she says. “We were hoping to seamlessly integrate it into our regular service without a customer really noticing any difference in quality. That has been a success so far. As long as people are getting the same quality of service they’ve always received, it’s a success.”
The city is seeing benefits from the environmentally-friendly aspects of the vehicle. This is a bonus for Foothill Transit, as a California regulation in 2012 began requiring large agencies to purchase 15 percent of annual bus orders as zero emission buses.
“The bonus to the city is we reduce local pollution by having a zero-emission transit vehicle,” Friesema says. “Plus we end up saving money on fuel costs.”
Lauren Festner, director of maintenance and vehicle technology for Foothill Transit, says that Foothill’s fuel economy has improved with major cost-savings thanks to the Ecoliner buses.
“The easiest way to compare the ‘fuel economy’ of an electric bus to a conventionally- fueled vehicle is in standard miles per gallon (MPG),” Festner says. “By comparison, our CNG fleet averages 3.5 MPG (Diesel Gallon Equivalent) and our Electric buses average about 18 MPG.”
Aside from fuel savings, maintenance costs are also way down for the vehicles.
“We’re paying less in fuel, but also in maintenance,” Friesema says. “There are fewer moving parts in the electric motor, so we’re seeing that the cost for maintaining the bus is lower than that of a conventional vehicle.”
More vehicles ahead
Friesema says that Foothill Transit is preparing the procurement process for an additional nine vehicles. After testing the Ecoliner buses on Line 291, she says the agency is keen to continue improving service on that route.
“Putting the buses on that line really tested the technology,” she says. “We’d like to fully electrify Line 291, and hopefully we can do just that.”  BR