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King County Metro is testing electric buses

Five models will be sent on South King County’s longest, hilliest routes

A battery-powered bus.
Courtesy of King County Metro

King County Metro has a timeline for electrifying its buses: purchasing battery-powered buses in 2020, with the goal of a completely zero-emission fleet by 2040. But first, Metro has some test drives to do. Five prospective manufacturers are providing Metro with 40 and 60-foot buses—all with a range of more than 140 miles on a single charge, which could handle about 70 percent of Metro’s routes.

“Before committing fully to manufacturers, we first must take steps to test the performance of this fast-moving technology,” said Metro General Manager Rob Gannon in a statement.

In the coming months, those buses will begin operating out of Metro’s south base in Tukwila. This is part of a priority to deploy electric buses in South King County, “improving air quality and public health first in low-income and communities of color, which are most vulnerable to the public health impacts of air pollution,” according to Metro’s press release. Buses will be assigned to long routes with steep hills during all four seasons to make sure they’re up to Seattle’s topography and weather.

King County Metro has been testing a Proterra electric bus since last year. Proterra already manufacturers King County’s short-range (25 miles) buses, which charge in about 10 minutes and are currently deployed in Bellevue. This upcoming testing phase expands those options, with five different bus models and three manufacturers. In addition to Proterra, King County will be testing buses by New Flyer, which has manufactured 1,500 buses for Metro before, and BYD.

While the goal is to have all-electric buses as early as 2040, Metro says an all-electric fleet could happen by 2034. To make sure the fleet is actually a green fleet, Metro will work with Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light to make sure the batteries are charged with clean, renewable energy.