Location: Wasatch Front, UT Fleet Type: Electric Transit Buses
The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is revolutionizing public transportation across the Wasatch Front region of Utah. Since 2013, UTA has been at the forefront of incorporating alternative energy sources into its fleet, thereby reducing fuel costs, lowering air pollution, and enhancing the resilience of Utah’s public transportation sector. Spearheaded by collaborative efforts, including the partnership with Utah Clean Cities, UTA’s transition to electric buses has garnered significant success and support.
In 2019, UTA introduced its initial set of three battery-electric buses onto 30-minute service routes connecting the University of Utah to Salt Lake Central Station, and Salt Lake Central to West Valley Central. These buses were supported by on-route shorepower fast charging at Salt Lake Central Station and depot chargers at the bus garage. Funding for these buses and the charging infrastructure was made possible through a federal grant from the Low-No (Low or No Emissions) program. By December 2022, UTA had expanded its electric fleet to 13 buses, with plans to introduce 22 more by the end of 2023. Additionally, UTA’s Ogden Express project and 10 electric on-demand vans are set to contribute further to UTA’s electrification initiative, supported by Utah’s Volkswagen Settlement Fund. UTA’s long-term strategy aims for a 40% electric fleet by 2040 and also envisions the electrification of the Frontrunner Commuter train by 2040. UTA’s electrification efforts have driven the need for power storage upgrades and an expanded charging infrastructure network, a challenge being managed through effective collaboration between internal departments and external stakeholders. UTA’s New Central Depot Garage, inaugurated in May, 2023 serves as the epicenter of their electrification endeavors, set to house the influx of new battery-electric buses
Outputs and Outcomes
The shift to electric buses has yielded remarkable benefits, including better air quality, reduced greenhouse emissions, and improved economic viability for UTA through long-term operational and maintenance cost reductions. As Utah’s energy grid transitions towards renewable sources, the benefits will amplify. The adoption of electric buses translates to an estimated removal of 9,700 gallons of diesel per bus annually. By 2022, the 13 electric buses in operation had already contributed to a yearly reduction of approximately 19,859 gallons of diesel and 130.6 tons of GHG emissions. UTA’s strategic focus on electrification underscores its commitment to efficiency; electric buses exhibit three to four times greater energy efficiency compared to diesel counterparts, equivalent to 15 to 20 miles per gallon for electric buses as opposed to 4.5 to 5.5 miles per gallon for diesel buses. The inherent efficiency of electric propulsion aligns with UTA’s sustainability goals. UTA’s partnership with local utility Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), Weber State and Utah State University ASPIRE Center stands as a prime example of regional collaboration, focusing on energy efficiency, electric vehicles & infrastructure, grid resilience, research, and on-going grant funding. The collaboration has led to a $2 million research initiative, exploring the impact of large-scale battery-electric bus implementation on the electrical grid. UTA and RMP are working on control systems that mitigate peak energy impacts from high-powered bus chargers and capitalize on the existing light rail system’s energy capacity.
Best Practices & Lessons Learned
UTA Executive Director and Utah Clean Cities Board Member Jay Fox speaking as a transit consultant at the EV Zion park tour in April 2023.
UTA’s success story is a testament to the efficacy of a diversified alternative fuels fleet strategy and the strategic integration of state-of-the-art transit technologies. Their proactive stance is evident in the pioneering hydrogen demonstration project with Utah Clean Cities, in collaboration with Stadler Rail, a prominent innovator in hydrogen-powered train systems. This approach highlights the importance of forward-thinking, innovative partnerships and the value of embracing emerging technologies to drive sustainable mobility solutions.