Unitrans electric bus is red and student is getting off the bus

The new electric buses feature a familiar red exterior — but without the white stripes of the previous fleet. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Going Electric

by | Apr 18, 2023 | Spring/Summer 2023, Technology, What's Next

Unitrans started carrying passengers in its first six electric buses at the start of fall quarter.

The single-deck buses feature a new, red-wave exterior paint scheme (and no more white stripe).

But it’s the zero-emission factor of the New Flyer Xcelsior Charge NG buses that is most impressive as Unitrans, the campus-city system run by the Associated Students of UC Davis, zeroes in on an all-electric future.

“We are committed to buying nothing but electric from here on out” — 48 in all, to replace the entire fleet, said Jeff Flynn, Unitrans general manager, “in furtherance of UC Davis and UC and city of Davis carbon neutrality goals.”

Unitrans’ existing fleet runs on compressed natural gas. As those buses reach retirement age, they will be replaced with battery electric vehicles.

Flynn said the New Flyer Xcelsior Charge NGs are rated to go 225 miles on a single charge, “but real-life expectation from peer agencies is 175 miles.” Still, with the average Unitrans bus traveling 150 miles a day, there should be no need to charge the buses midday, he said. “We have not had any issues.”

Each of the new buses has the same capacity as Unitrans’ existing single-deckers: 37 seated, 65 total, including space for mobility devices (with ramp access). New Flyer Industries manufactured the buses in Minnesota and trucked them to Davis.

14 buses, 14 charging stations

Phase 1 of Unitrans’ electrification program comprises the six buses that went into service for fall quarter, and eight more due to arrive in spring 2023 and spring 2024 and the installation of 14 charging stations at the bus yard.

Total cost: $19.2 million, about $1 million each for the buses and $5.2 million for the charging stations (already completed), paid for as follows:

■ $11 million in competitive state and federal transportation grants funneled through the city of Davis, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District

■ $8 million in other federal funds (allocated by the city of Davis) and some student fee money

Next phases

Flynn said the electrification program is envisioned in three phases, with completion by 2034. Unitrans has secured funding for 12 to 15 additional charging stations but does not yet have funds for more buses beyond the initial 14.

He said Unitrans, in cooperation with its partners, including the city of Davis, will be just as aggressive in pursuing additional competitive grants as it was in the first round of funding.

Unitrans’ new buses are not the first electric buses on campus. That distinction belongs to the Causeway Connection, which started running in May 2020, connecting the Davis and Sacramento campuses.