OGDEN — The Utah Transit Authority has approved the purchase of 10 all-electric buses that will be used for the Ogden bus rapid transit system.
But before the deal was finalized, members of UTA’s board had some questions about the model’s performance.
Last week, the transit agency’s board ultimately approved a $44.2 million contract with Gillig LLC to purchase 44 electric buses from the company, with an option to purchase 95 more over the next five years. The deal also includes associated charging equipment. Ten of the buses will be used for the Ogden BRT system, with the remaining buses set to be used in Salt Lake and Summit counties.
Last week, during a groundbreaking ceremony for the highly-anticipated $120 million Ogden BRT project, officials from UTA, Ogden City and Weber State University underscored the electric buses that will be used on the system, pointing out the environmental benefits that would come with an electric system.
But during a discussion on the purchase contract, UTA Board Chair Carlton Christensen raised some concern about a lack of real-world data associated with the Gillig buses the agency will be buying.
The Federal Transit Administration’s “New Model Bus Testing Program,” which is often referred to as “Altoona Testing” due to the Pennsylvania city where the main testing center is located, was suspended in March 2020 amid the initial COVID-19 outbreak. According to the FTA’s website, the training resumed in July last year, but the suspension created a backlog in the process.
The testing looks at bus safety, reliability, structural integrity and durability, maintenance, noise, fuel economy and emissions. Bus models that fail to meet one or more minimum performance standards will “fail” their test, making them ineligible for purchase with FTA funds until the issues are resolved, according to the FTA. The Gillig bus UTA will use for the Ogden BRT got the Altoona Testing finished in March, which was later than anticipated. The model passed the testing, but the entire delayed process with the FTA has made it so fewer of the buses have been out on the streets, operating under real-world conditions.
“I think this is (Gillig’s) introduction ... or (first) foray into electric buses,” Christensen said. “How confident are we in a bus that really hasn’t been used much.”
Kyle Stockley, capital program manager at UTA, said there are 25 transit agencies across the United States slated to use the same Gillig electric buses that were just purchased for the Ogden BRT.
“We’ll watch the quality and production of the electric buses as they come out,” Stockley said. “If we seen anything on the front end, even before we get our buses, we’ll make sure those are resolved before our buses even go online.”
Stockley also said there is language in UTA’s contract agreement with Gillig that would protect the agency in the event the buses don’t function as advertised. The Ogden BRT is set to be operational by late 2023.
The system will feature a 5.3-mile transit connection between downtown Ogden, WSU and McKay-Dee Hospital. The service will originate at the Ogden UTA transit center at 2350 Wall Ave., head east on 23rd Street to Washington Boulevard, go south along Washington Boulevard to 25th Street, turn east along 25th Street to Harrison Boulevard, then south to WSU and a planned transit center at the Dee Events Center. McKay-Dee would be the final stop on the line.
Individual BRT stations will be located at the transit center, The Junction, several other spots downtown, along 25th Street and Harrison Boulevard, Ogden High School, WSU, the Dee Events Center and the hospital. Stops at stations will be every every 10 to 15 minutes on weekdays and about every 15 to 30 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. All fares on the system will be free for the first three years of operation.