SARTA to buy its first electric buses and eight more that run on natural gas.

July 10, 2023

CANTON − The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority plans to spend $4.41 million from a federal grant on two electric buses, two chargers and eight paratransit vehicles that will run on compressed natural gas.

The two electric buses, which would be the first in SARTA’s fleet, would transport veterans to appointments at Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said SARTA’s CEO Kirt Conrad.

SARTA has a contract with the Stark County Veterans Service Commission to provide the service to Cuyahoga County. The buses with two electric chargers are expected to be delivered by fall 2024.

“It’s something we wanted for quite a while and a better bus for that route. so the veterans didn’t have to sit on hard plastic seats for two hours up to Cleveland,” said Conrad. “They don’t make a fuel cell vehicle in that model yet. We went to zero emission battery electric.”

Where did SARTA’s get the grant money?

SARTA’s $4.41 million comes from the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that Congress passed in November 2021. The legislation increased infrastructure spending by about $550 million on top of what Congress was planning to spend on infrastructure.

Of that money, $5.3 billion was allocated to fund the purchase of low and no-emission buses for public transit agencies. The Federal Transit Administration estimated the legislation increased the amount of funding for such vehicles from $55 million a year to $1.1 billion a year. For the year ending Sept. 30,, 2023, the Federal Transit Administration on June 26 announced $1.69 billion in competitive grants to cover transit agencies’ purchases of no-emission or low-emission buses.

The FTA allocated $29.33 million to the Ohio Department of Transportation, which applied for the funds on behalf of SARTA and nine other Ohio transit systems, which submitted applications in the spring. SARTA’s allocation of $4.41 million is the second largest of the 10 subrecipients and exceeds the $3.27 million allocated to the much larger Greater Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office announced the allocations to the Ohio transit agencies last month..

SARTA’s new electric buses

Conrad said the two electric buses would be similar to coach buses like a Greyhound or intercity bus. It would have softer seats and a wheelchair ramp instead of a wheelchair lift. They would not have a bathroom as the space where that normally would be would house the vehicle’s battery.

SARTA has several no-emission hydrogen fuel-cell 40-foot-long fixed-route buses. But no one yet makes hydrogen fuel-cell coach buses, said Conrad, so SARTA opted to go with two electric buses that will each cost about $1.1 million and seat 52. The manufacturer would be MCI or Motor Coach Industries, based in Des Plaines, Illinois. Its parent company is NFI Group based in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

Conrad said SARTA bought five fuel-cell paratransit vehicles for $450,000 each in 2021. But they’ve developed problems. Some of the fuel cells have had difficulty working. The batteries at times have not held a charge. He said because SARTA has backup vehicles, the problems have not affected riders getting to their destinations.

Until the manufacturer resolves the issues, Conrad said, SARTA decided to get eight low-emission compressed natural-gas paratransit vehicles instead to replace old diesel vehicles being phased out of its fleet of 60. The new compressed natural-gas paratransit vehicle will each cost about $170,000 and would be delivered in about a year. Tesco Bus in Oregon, Ohio, make the paratransit vehicles. Paratransit service is where people with disabilities sign up for the service and can schedule rides for a fare.