On Dec. 19 The World ran a story about Link Transit’s Ultra Fast Charge Electric Trolley Project. While the story was mostly correct, the tone and some of the wording implied that Link Transit was close to abandoning the project and declaring it a failure. That implication is not correct. Link Transit remains fully committed to delivering a successful, serviceable, and cost effective electric trolley project for the citizens of our community, and we fully expect to complete this task in 2013.
While it is true that the final delivery of the trolley vehicles is over two years late, and that there have been numerous engineering challenges and delays in our phase one project, our vendor, Ebus of Downey, Calif., has accepted responsibility and has covered the costs that Link Transit has incurred due to their delays. The positive response by Ebus, along with the consistent progress and improvements the project is showing, gives us great confidence that we will eventually have a highly successful advanced technology project for our community.
The concern that we have is related to our next phase two electric bus project. Two years ago, Link Transit was awarded a second $2.5 million Transportation Investments Generating Greenhouse gas and Energy Reductions (TIGGER) grant for an expansion of our phase one trolley project. The phase two project is to acquire five electric “traditional style” buses utilizing the same battery-electric technology used in our trolley project. We indicated in our grant applications that we would not proceed with the second grant until we had completed six months of successful operations with our phase one trolley project. This commitment was to ensure that our service results actually matched, or exceeded, the early test results prior to incurring any additional grant funds.
With the delays in our current trolley project, we are in danger of running out of time to complete the operational test period prior to the expiration of the phase two grant funds. In order not to lose these grant funds, we have informed our vendor (Ebus) that they need to complete the current phase one trolley project by mid-March for us to go forward with the second project. We let them know that if they miss the March deadline, we will approach the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) about redirecting the grant funds to another alternate technology.
Based on the initial testing of our phase one trolley project, we still believe this new fast charging battery-electric technology has great potential to cost effectively reduce vehicle emissions, vehicle noise, and reduce the overall operating costs associated with diesel-powered buses. We fully expect the phase one trolley project to prove these results and we fully hope we will be able to build on these anticipated results with a phase two project. However, if Ebus is not able to meet our March timeline, then we will need to see if we can get our granting agency, the FTA, to allow us to retain the federal grant funds for an alternative project that would still be of benefit for the residents of our valley.
Richard DeRock is general manager of Link Transit.