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Later this year, C-TRAN will put 10 battery-electric buses into service. It will mark the first time in C-TRAN’s history that we’ve deployed all-electric, zero-emission vehicles in our regular fixed-route fleet.

They won’t be the last.

In fact, 2023 represents something of a turning point for C-TRAN. It’s the beginning of a long-term plan to transition our fleet to zero-emission vehicles, and become an entirely zero-emission fleet by 2040. That means existing diesel buses will be gradually phased out in the next two decades, replaced with alternative fuel vehicles along the way.

“Every bus that we order from here on out will be zero-emission,” says Tim Shellenberger, C-TRAN’s Director of Maintenance. “That’s the commitment we’re making.”

In 2022, C-TRAN conducted a comprehensive feasibility study to explore alternative fuel options, and what might work best for C-TRAN’s system. The result was a C-TRAN Zero Emission Bus Transition Plan, endorsed by the C-TRAN Board of Directors in December. The plan lays out two paths for C-TRAN to achieve a zero-emission fleet: Battery-electric buses, going into service this year, and hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, which could start rolling in 2025.

After trying out both technologies in the coming years, C-TRAN will ultimately choose the path that works best for the agency and the community. But Shellenberger makes one thing clear: That cannot come at the expense of quality of service.

“We did not want to impact customers in order to accommodate technology,” Shellenberger says.

In other words, any alternative fuel vehicle must have the capability—and range—to serve C-TRAN’s routes across Clark County.

There are important differences between the two zero-emission technologies C-TRAN will deploy in the coming years. Battery-electric buses use a fairly straightforward system of charging the vehicle using various types of chargers connected to the existing electric grid. C-TRAN has already installed plug-in fast-charging stations at our main Maintenance facility, plus 99th Street Transit Center and Fisher’s Landing Transit Center, in preparation for the 10 battery-electric vehicles arriving later this year.

Hydrogen fuel cell buses have batteries as well, but the batteries are charged with an on-board fuel cell that generates electricity by consuming hydrogen gas as the bus travels. Hydrogen can be transported and stored in liquid form at the fueling station, and converted to gas when it goes into the vehicle’s hydrogen fuel tank. C-TRAN plans to add a hydrogen fueling station to its Maintenance facilities to accommodate those buses when they arrive. Hydrogen fuel cell buses do not require any charging station infrastructure.

All of C-TRAN’s existing fixed-route fleet are either diesel or diesel-electric hybrid buses. Those vehicles will be gradually retired as they age out of the fleet between now and 2040. Meanwhile, C-TRAN continues to use a renewable diesel blend to reduce our carbon footprint while they’re still in service.

There are various federal and state programs that will encourage C-TRAN and other transit agencies to move toward zero-emission vehicles in the future. There are also new grant programs to help make that happen. That’s part of what prompted C-TRAN’s feasibility study and the Zero Emission Bus Transition Plan now in place.

Ultimately, C-TRAN will do what makes the most sense for C-TRAN and the region we serve. As we venture into battery-electric buses and hydrogen fuel cell buses, C-TRAN will get a better sense of the tradeoffs—among them range, vehicle life, infrastructure and cost. Shellenberger calls it a “real-world study.”

Once C-TRAN has both in service, Shellenberger says, “we can start comparing the technologies.”

“And that will help us make a better decision.”

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