What Weighs 27,000 Pounds and is Cleaner than a Prius?
March 9, 2016

King County has a long record of leading the way on clean public transit. In the mid-2000s, Metro Transit began the process of converting its largely diesel fleet to a hybrid electric one that reduced fuel usage by a third and saves the county millions every year. At the time, the agency was one of the first in the world to take this step, and it almost single-handedly created a new industry in cleaner public transit.

But even the cleanest diesel buses still emit about 2 kilograms of CO2 per mile into our atmosphere. They also release a range of pollutants that contribute to asthma and lung disease, especially among communities clustered near large roadways. King County operates more than 1,600 such buses.

Moving to electric transit is a logical next step, which is why we’re so excited that King County Metro Transit has gotten the ball rolling with three new Proterra Catalyst battery electric buses. Each of these electric buses will save Metro Transit as much as half a million dollars in fuel and maintenance costs over its lifetime—more  than paying for the upfront investment that puts the buses on the road. And they’re manufactured in the United States, providing hundreds of jobs in South Carolina and elsewhere.

This transition is a game changer—again.

The new buses will run quietly and comfortably, improving the public transit experience for passengers as well as people waiting at or walking by bus stops on the street. Living in parts of town with regular public transit access is valuable, but your average diesel bus is extremely loud and not fun to be (or breathe) next to. As more of these electric buses hit the road, they will transform even the experience of walking around our city.

And of course there is a massive air quality benefit. Increasingly frequent episodes of extreme weather and drought take their toll on our air quality—even the Olympic rainforest burned for several weeks last year. Communities that live next to highways and major roadways breathe in dangerous exhaust, and they’re often least able to afford a safer part of town. Buses and mass transit cut down on the number of cars in the street, but if transit is powered by diesel, we are missing the full potential benefits.

These electric buses represent a vision of something better. Public transportation gives people options to get around outside of their individual cars, and as Metro Transit moves people to take mass transit, we need to make that is as clean as possible too. Metro Transit is rolling out 27,000-pound, forty-foot buses that pollute less as they drive than a Prius—and that’s amazing.

Our planet will benefit certainly, but we’ll feel the benefits closer to home too, as vulnerable communities that live next to major roads breathe cleaner air from cleaner, quieter buses. But that’s why this has to be a first step. In 2004, Metro began to transition to an all-hybrid fleet, a goal it will hopefully achieve by 2018. We hope that a new transition—to 100% electric—is the next step and happens quickly too. 

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Author Bio

Vlad Gutman-Britten

former Washington Director, Climate Solutions

Vlad was Washington State Director until 12/1/21.  He brought varied and deep experience in policy, advocacy, and campaign politics to his work at Climate Solutions.

Before coming to Climate Solutions, Vlad was Senior Policy Director for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, where he successfully secured tens of millions of dollars in state investment in habitat and recreation lands. He was previously a key part of issue advocacy and communications efforts for large companies, including Microsoft and GE, and before that served as AIPAC's Deputy Midwest Political Director. A veteran campaign operative, he has run congressional and state legislative campaigns and worked on races ranging from mayoral to presidential.

Vlad is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he received a degree in political science. In his free time, Vlad bikes, listens to everything from opera to folk music, and smokes whatever fish or meat fits into his smoker.  He is soon off to New York City to start a new adventure as the Assistant Director for Policy and Markets at NYSERDA, New York State's energy agency.  

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