Sebastopol Shuttle is the first of county transit’s all-electric fleet

 It might be hard to hear, but the new Sebastopol Shuttle 24 made a big splash on Monday as the county’s first zero-emission, all-electric bus. The Sebastopol Shuttle, a 30-foot heavy-duty coach, is the first in an innovative shift by Sonoma County Transit to deploy an all-electric fleet.

Sonoma County Transit Director, Bryan Albee, said it’s been a three-year process for county transit to launch the county’s first all-electric bus, but low-emission, clean-fuel shuttles are not new to the area.

County transit introduced natural gas buses in 1995, and by 2006 all heavy-duty buses in the fleet were running on natural gas, making it the only natural gas fleet in the Bay Area.

“Today marks a transition from natural gas to electric, and we expect by 2040 the fleet will all be electric, as will all public transit fleets in the state,” Albee said. 

According to Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works, not only is the Sebastopol Shuttle the first electric bus in the county, but it is also one of the few in Northern California. The 22-passenger Sebastopol Shuttle will operate approximately 95 miles per day and has a range of 137 miles per charge. Onboard amenities include wireless internet, USB charging ports and the NextBus/NextStop passenger information system.

BYD Bus and Coach in Lancaster, California, made the shuttle. According to county officials, the acquisition of the bus was made in anticipation of new California Air Resources Board regulations that will require transit operators to purchase only zero-emission buses beginning in 2029.

Funding for the transition to an all-electric fleet comes from a combination of state programs including the Low-Carbon Transit Operations program and the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Initiative program.

Building a new generation of bus riders

Albee said his office has worked with Sebastopol community leaders, including Councilmember Sarah Glade-Gurney and Tasha Beauchamp of Sebastopol Cittaslow, in the last year to make some improvements to local Route 24. The route reaches as far north as Mill Station Road and as far south as Lynch Road, connecting residents to the downtown and Barlow area.

Sebastopol City Council voted unanimously on May 15 to subsidize free rides for all riders through June 30, 2019. The fare-free program went into effect on June 4, coinciding with the introduction of a new weekday schedule that expanded afternoon service to after 6:30 p.m. With the new schedule, the route serves two new stops on McKinley Street, providing more access to social spots in the Barlow like Community Market, Taylor Lane Coffee and the Rialto Theatre.

The fare-free program, in addition to schedule extensions and extra stops, has made a significant impact, increasing ridership more than 50 percent.

“In transit, to get a 53 percent increase in ridership, that’s phenomenal,” Albee said.

Tasha Beauchamp said she helped organize focus groups to help navigate changes to improve ridership in Sebastopol. There was also an online survey to help find out what barriers were prohibiting community members from riding the bus.

She said local teenagers really spoke out for a need to have access to transportation for after school activities. County transit scheduled Route 24 to coincide with the Sebastopol Charter School’s afternoon release time.

“We want to build a generation of bus riders,” Beauchamp said.

Next steps for transit

Two additional all-electric buses are expected to be added to the Sonoma County fleet in 2020 for service along local routes in Windsor, Rohnert Park and Cotati. The buses will be equipped with inductive charging to allow for in-route charging at layover points at the Windsor Depot and the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.

Other cities have followed Sebastopol’s lead and have partnered with Sonoma County Transit to introduce free fare programs. Other fare-free routes include Route 66, the Windsor Shuttle, and Route 67, the Healdsburg Shuttle. County transit officials are working with other municipalities to expand the fare-free program.

Since 2015, Sonoma County Transit has provided free rides to college students and veterans. For more information regarding the new zero-emission all-electric bus, or for general information about Sonoma County Transit,  visit sctransit.com or contact 707-576-7433.

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