Electrifying transportation in San Francisco, advocates push for new generation of buses

At San Francisco City Hall, environmental, consumer and public health advocates, industry leaders, and elected officials released a report advocating for a new generation of electric buses that are coming onto the market. It's just another example of how fossil fuel dominated transportation is changing in many big ways.

The Proterra electric bus can go 146 miles on a single battery pack charge, unconnected to overhead power lines. The Edison Electric Institute says vehicle transportation is the second largest consumer of energy, second only to electricity generation. In fact, petroleum powers 93 percent of transportation.

"When you electrify transportation, the energy cost goes way down. So, typically, running vehicles on electricity versus gasoline or diesel is about one third to one-fourth the cost," said Mark Duvall, transportation expert at the Electric Power Research Institute. That's a major reason Caltrain will electrify, dumping diesel engines.  

Electrification is also good for human health and the health of the planet. "We see this, again, as having the co-benefits of dealing with our climate problems as well as the air pollution problems,” said Dr. Robert Gould, a University of California San Francisco Medical School professor.

At the Port of Oakland, GSC Logistics is running shipping containers between its yard and ship with a battery powered semi, fuel and pollution free. Also at the port, AB Truck has just acquired a U.S. made, Orange EV electric powered container mover, called a hostler, replacing its diesel hostler. 

"It's got a range of eight full hours of work. It can last 24 hours on a full charge. There's no moving parts and definitely no emissions. We don't have to go chasing diesel to pour diesel into it so we can maintain it and operate it.  And, it's cheaper cost," said AB Trucking's Bill Aboudi. 

The maker of the hostler says it's time has come. "The economics are now there, driven by fuel and maintenance savings and saving in all the other health and safety benefits," said Orange EV's Mike Saxton.

Longer range trucks and buses are still in their infancy, awaiting a crucial scientific breakthrough. "They have to have a long range between charges, and that's going to require better batteries than we have, at least, at this point," said energy economist Severin Borenstein of the University of California's Energy Institute at Haas Graduate School of Business.

Electric cars have long ranges now, but really big numbers of consumers have yet to buy. "You start to see a tipping point when you really have a lot of consumers going out and buying cars that plug in," said the Electric Power Research Institute's Duvall.

Though fossil fuels will be with us for many years to come, we're coming closer to the tipping point where gasoline and diesel will be to transportation what candles and natural gas used to be to street lighting.