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Expectations Are High For These Double-Decker Electric Buses Coming To SoCal Streets In 2019

Two all-electric double-decker buses will be rolling out on L.A. County roads next year. (Image courtesy Foothill Transit)
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Think double-decker buses and London probably comes to mind. The city's two-story red buses are iconic.

But on this side of the pond, a local transit agency has announced it will add double-deckers to its commuter service. And they'll have the double novelty of being 100 percent electric.

Foothill Transit, the commuter bus service for the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys, will roll out two all-electric, vertical-friendly buses to its fleet next year, making them the first of their kind in North America.

"Ultimately, we're trying to get people from point A to point B," said Doran Barnes, the agency's executive director. "We're trying to do it in the absolute cleanest way that we can, but we're also trying to do it in a way that people really enjoy the experience."

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So, riding high above traffic in a bus that's quiet and doesn't pollute -- and that holds the potential to reduce traffic even more than a regular transit bus. The new electric double-deckers can carry 80 passengers in the same footprint as a single-deck bus that currently carries 38.

Foothill Transit started looking into double-deckers a few years ago as a way to replace its 60-foot articulated buses, which have great seating capacity but made for a bumpy ride.

Foothill Transit's new double-decker buses are 100 percent electric and will be the first of their kind in all of North America. (Image courtesy Foothill Transit)

Foothill's new buses were created in partnership with Alexander Dennism, the company known for London's double-deckers. But they'll use an electric propulsion system designed and built right here in California.

That company, Proterra, has built several of the 40-foot, single-level electric buses Foothill Transit already has in service. The manufacturer has a factory east of L.A. and is providing the same battery technology that broke the world record for range last year, going more than 1,100 miles on a single charge.

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The battery for the double-deckers will be capable of about 157 miles per charge.

"This is an outside-the-box strategic move," said Joseph Schwieterman, a bus transportation expert with DePaul University in Chicago. "We haven't seen double-deckers in transit service in this country and you throw electric on and it's really quite a novelty. This isn't the old city bus that you remember."

And at $1.6 million per bus, they better be memorable.

While that price was offset with a grant from Metro Express Lanes Toll Revenue, there's still a high cost to early adoption. But that cost is expected to fall with subsequent purchases as the technology evolves and the R&D budget go down. That's why Foothill is staggering its electric bus purchases over time.

For a smaller transit agency, it might seem like a tough thing to pull off. But like many SoCal transit agencies, Foothill plans to electrify its entire bus fleet by 2030, some of which will be double deckers.

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"Our ultimate goal isn't to buy two of these buses but maybe 30 of them or 100 of them so we can really use this technology in a variety of different ways," Bornes said.

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