TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT FSView StarMetro unveils new electric buses, charging stations The fleet of all-electric buses in Tallahassee is growing. Now at five, StarMetro has the largest fleet of alternative-fueled public transportation in the U.S. City and industry officials unveiled the newest in the fleet and three Proterra FastFill charging stations this morning at the C.K. Steele Plaza along with one of the buses after they rode, emission-free and nearly silently from City Hall to the main station. "As I stand here with such innovative technology over my head," said Mayor John Marks at the unveiling pointing to the charging system. "I'm reminded that we are not only leading the industry in Tallahassee, but across the state and frankly across the nation." The electric buses, which cost $950,000 each, have the potential to save the city about $167,000 a year in fuel costs as opposed to the traditional diesel fueled buses costing around $450,000 each and an additional $50,000 annually in fuel to run. The electricity to recharge the buses will run about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, for a total of around $7,500 in the same span, something City Commissioner Gil Ziffer said is important as the city tries to quench a budget deficit. Those savings are "real money," Ziffer said. "Look, they're unbelievably efficient buses that are good for our environment and we've always been big into that," noting that the buses should be a welcome addition for the 28,000 customers in the Leon, Gadsden and Wakulla areas that utilize natural gas. Ivan Maldonado, executive director of StarMetro said in an email that while the cost for an electric bus may seem high, as more clients, like Disney, look into using them, he expects the price to drop. Maldonado said the traditional diesel buses get 3.79 mpg, while their electric counterparts get an estimated 22.5 mpg; the three charging stations cost $1 million and will increase the fuel economy of the system by 500- 640 percent, according to Maldonado. Cities like Los Angeles are in the process of procuring similar systems; it just signed an agreement to acquire 25 buses July 1. Still Tallahassee remains an innovative leader. Michael Hennessy, Proterra regional sales director, said the buses, and the overhead charging stations would allow the buses to refuel while passengers were loading and unloading, improving route times and the number of stops the system can make. Proterra is South Carolina-based company that started its vision of developing domestically made, environmentally sound transportation systems in the 1990s in Denver, where the first set of buses similar to the ones in Tallahassee today still run. Commissioner Scott Maddox, a strong supporter of the public transit system, said while StarMetro was aiding the people who rode the buses over 73,000 times in 2012, especially mothers and grandmothers in the community, the addition of the eco-friendly buses made him think about "taking care of the most important mother of all, Mother Nature...and not adding to our problem with fossil fuels." The buses, which can be recharged in 10 minutes, are the result of a $5 million award to StarMetro in 2010 from the Federal Transit Administration as part of the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction grant. In 2012 the FTA increased the grant to $2 million, which StarMetro used to purchase two additional buses, to bring the number on the road to five. Commissioner Andrew Gillum said StarMetro and the service has been a priority of the city as they work through a budget that has almost a $5 million deficit, and a possible $1 million gap in the StarMetro budget. However in a June 19 city budget workshop Gillum said the holes in the operating system, and the subsequent fixes in route development of StarMetro, were incremental and were not enough to be considered a success story. Tuesday, he said the addition of the new buses, in addition to being eco-friendly, would put additional sets of wheels into the public transport fleet to better serve commuters. "This is a step in the right direction to increase circulation," Gillum said. "They are fuel efficient and save us on the cost of operating the system, but this is another step that moves us forward toward a desirable and effective bus system." Gillum said with the funds for the five new buses coming from grants, the opportunity to use the money that the city didn't have to spend should be capitalized on. "They allow us to put the money we have to hiring more drivers for a more efficient service," Gillum said. "But we will have to get to the point to where we'll have to make some hard decisions about our routes and whether we're spending the right money on them." The electric buses will begin running regularly in August.