ASUCD Unitrans Goes Electric with Help from a Federal Transit Administration Grant


By Jolene Darensbourg

DAVIS – This year, Unitrans created a Program of Projects (POP) for their grant applications to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to receive transit funding for the city of Davis.

In order to support transit operations in the city, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, from the government, gave the city over $10 million in response to the revenue lost during the cut back of some transit services due to COVID-19.

The City of Davis and Unitrans used part of the money from the FTA grant to support the Unitrans operations for the next three fiscal years in order to reduce the losses in local and state funding.

They portioned $3.76 million of the grant towards the Unitrans buses and with this money, Unitrans can buy five more battery-electric buses. Part of the grant will cover 80 percent of the costs – the rest will be covered by student fees.

Currently, the Unitrans buses are running on compressed gas, but as they get older, they will be replaced with emission-free battery electric vehicles, which means they will become closer to being more sustainable for the environment.

Sustainability is important to Unitrans because the electrification highlights transit partnership for environmental objectives to do their part in working to save the planet.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments also approved a $2.9 million grant to Valley Clean Energy (VCE) to increase electric vehicle charging in Yolo County.

The City of Davis submitted an application to VCE for grant funds to put towards charging infrastructure, allowing for electric vehicle chargers in downtown Davis and on the UC Davis campus.

There will be updates towards the infrastructure for the bus yard to have electrical charging spots in the concrete pavement along with landscaping and drainage, of course.

The charging stations will get their power to charge the buses from underground vaults that are going to be installed.

Having electric-powered buses is beneficial towards becoming more environmentally sustainable because they reduce air pollution and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Using electric buses eliminates diesel exhaust emissions and pollutants that harm the ozone layer.

Electric buses also produce fewer greenhouse gases than diesel, diesel hybrid and natural gas-powered buses.

Along with improving the air quality, the electric buses are quieter than regular buses, and the use of electric buses is also shown to cut down on fuel costs.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, Unitrans services reduced the number of buses in use because many students decided to go home during the spring and summer. However, now in the fall, they have expanded the service back again.

Due to more students and others returning to Davis since the start of fall, the increase of service brought back buses to the Silo Terminal, which has not been used since March.

With the pandemic still going on, it does pose questions and fears towards traveling by public transportation, but Unitrans is having all seats and interior hard surfaces sanitized daily to ensure the safety and health of their passengers.

Unitrans requires that passengers wear masks while riding their buses and asks them to distance each other among the seats inside. They are also limiting the number of people who can ride a bus to 15 passengers at a time.

Having the opportunity to buy five more electric buses is a step closer towards having an entire system of electric buses at a university dedicated to environmental sustainability.

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