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Durango moving ahead with plans to electrify city fleet

Transportation department plans to purchase first electrified trolley this year
When the city eventually purchases its first electric bus, the first vehicle in its fleet to be replaced will be one of the gasoline-powered trolleys that services Main Avenue, said Sarah Hill, Durango Transit director. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Durango Transit is moving forward with plans to electrify its city fleet with a Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Plan to be presented to City Council late this summer.

In the meantime, it is putting grant funding to use to complete its transition plan and eventually obtain its first electric-powered trolley.

Colorado aims to have at least 1,000 electric vehicle transit vehicles in towns and cities across the state by 2030, and Gov. Jared Polis has set goals to transition to 100% electric vehicles by 2050, said Durango Transportation Director Sarah Hill.

She said the city’s transition plan will be a guidebook for Durango to do its part toward the state’s and its own sustainability goals.

City Council approved two separate but related budget appropriation requests on Tuesday for the transition plan, a fleet expansion and replacement project, and a traffic calming and safety project in partnership with several area agencies.

Durango Transit was awarded two grants totaling $80,000 to complete the transition plan, which consulting group HDR is analyzing the feasibility of, Hill said. The grants are fully reimbursable, but the city has to use the money first, thus Hill’s appropriation request.

HDR drafted feasibility memos to help the city craft its plan. The memos include recommendations on what type of electric buses the city would be wise to pursue with comparisons and contrasts to electric batteries and hydrogen powered vehicles and other specs and details.

The feasibility memos consider the city’s operations, fleet and facilities, different electric vehicles and charging infrastructure on the market now, Durango’s topography and weather, and its transit capacities, Hill said.

HDR says in its recommendations report hydrogen is an attractive option for zero-emission fleets, but it requires a lot of expensive infrastructure and it is uncertain what turns the hydrogen market will take.

“However, many battery electric cutaways are being produced by third-party manufacturers who repower traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles with electric powertrains and batteries,” the report says.

HDR recommends the city pursue electric battery vehicles, and the city appears to be listening.

Hill said she applied for grants for the transition plan and to obtain an electric bus simultaneously and received a $281,000 grant for the electric bus. However, Durango Transit is waiting to move on an electric bus order until its transition plan is complete.

“Just to make sure that we're not getting ahead of ourselves and ordering a bus and charging infrastructure that's not going to be compatible with the rest of the recommendation,” she said.

She said a slow roll into a fleet transition with one bus at a time lets the city slowly replace gas-powered buses with electric ones without interrupting services for the transit riders who rely on them most.

One of the city’s trolleys will be the first to be replaced, she said.

It turns out electric buses equivalent to the city’s fixed route buses don’t have large enough batteries to facilitate the buses’ daily routes. Hill said “there’s an element of waiting for the technology to catch up to us.”

But electric analogs to the Main Avenue trolleys have fast charging capabilities that would keep them topped off all day long in five- to seven-minute intervals when the trolleys are boarding and unboarding at the Durango Transit Center, she said.

“There's enough capacity in the battery to receive a fast charge that will keep it topped off all day. And so we'll be moving toward electrifying the Main Avenue trolley route as our first step,” she said.

On Tuesday, she requested a second budget appropriation for $690,886 to support expansion of the city’s transit fleet.

That includes the purchase of an electric bus later this spring or summer, the replacement of one paratransit bus and an additional four loop-route bus that take riders to Mercy Hospital, Walmart, Fort Lewis College and other destinations around town.

She said 80% of the funds are grant-supported and 20% come from Durango Transit’s contribution to the city’s vehicle equipment services fund.


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