INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Within the next five years, the county’s GoLine buses might be driving around a little quieter — and cleaner — than usual.
The county is applying for a $21 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to replace its GoLine buses with electric or low- or no-emission buses. On top of the environmental benefits, the move would be more cost effective over time, as it would save money on fuel, county staff said.
“I think it’s a great application,” Commission Chairman Joe Earman said Tuesday. “I think it’s the trend. It’s what we’re going to have to go to, whether we want to our not. And I think it’s time to make that move.”
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The current fleet of 20 buses is operated by the Senior Resource Associspantion under a contract with the county. The Federal Transit Administration already pays up to $4 million a year for the buses, which includes some operating costs, according to county records.
It’s a transition the county will eventually need to make regardless. The 2021 Green Bus Act requires all buses purchased or leased using federal funds to be zero-emission by 2029.
If the money comes through, the county could start replacing its fleet by 2028, as 15 of its buses are scheduled for replacement by then, according to county documents. The rest of the fleet would be replaced as needed.
Benefits of electric buses
The environmental benefits of the change to electric buses could be huge, according to the Senior Resource Association.
It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6 million kilograms of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of saving about 90,000 trees over 12 years, according to Karen Deigl, president and CEO of the Senior Resource Association.
Electric buses are more expensive upfront — as much as $900,000 compared to $400,000, the most expensive diesel bus — and they only get 140-250 miles per charge, depending on their size. So several spare buses would need to be purchased, because some daily routes exceed that range, Deigl told county commissioners in her presentation.
But charging buses is far cheaper than diesel fuel. The county would save about $732,000 a year in fuel costs if it makes the switch, she said.
“Which would mean that we would be able to probably provide more service, maybe more frequency, more hours,” Deigl said.
The county also is aiming to replace its Community Cospanch fleet, which offers door-to-door rides to people without transportation, with propane-fueled vehicles, which are considered low emission. That change would save the county about $47,000 a year in fuel costs.
GoLine is popular here
GoLine buses provided 1.2 million rides last year, said Brian Freeman, Metropolitan Planning Organization staff director.
“Who would’ve thought that we’d have a million riders in Indian River County in one year?” Earman asked. “It still blows my mind.”
GoLine offers 15 routes six days a week from its hubs in Vero Beach, at Indian River Mall and in north county, traveling as far south as Indian River State College in Fort Pierce and as far north as Sebastian and Fellsmere.
Other cities and counties across the state — including Jacksonville, Gainesville, Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach and Tallahassee — already have begun replacing their current fleets with electric buses, according to the Senior Resource Association.