Summit Stage begins lengthy transition to electric fleet with 3 new buses

FRISCO — The Summit Stage took the first step in its eventual transition to a 100% electric fleet on Monday morning, unveiling the transit service’s first three electric buses that soon will haul community members around the county and hopefully make a dent in the area’s greenhouse emissions.

A crowd of stakeholders gathered at the Transit Administration Building in Frisco on Monday, Oct. 19, to officially cut the ribbon on the new buses and to speak to the importance of taking another step forward in building a more sustainable community by pushing for better public transportation and the rapid transition of county vehicles to new electric options.

According to experts, the move to battery electric vehicles will help to cut into one of the county’s biggest sources of emissions.

“Back in 2018, when we created that communitywide climate action plan, we found that 33% of greenhouse gas emissions were created from transportation,” said Jen Schenk, executive director of the High Country Conservation Center. “We think this is a huge first step in starting to hit some of the long-term climate action goals for Summit County to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. I think the thing that (the conservation center) is most excited about … is that this is truly going to inspire and encourage other mountain communities to do the same.”

The Summit Stage purchased the three new Proterra electric buses in large part thanks to federal and state grants paired with local matching funds. According to Proterra founder Dale Hill — a Summit County local — each bus should help to eliminate “in the neighborhood” of 230,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.

Hill also said the buses have a range of 150-175 miles on a single charge and that new designs could see electric buses topping 250 miles in the near future.   

While the first wave of electric vehicles is only three buses, Summit Stage Director Chris Lubbers said plans are already in motion to add up to four more over the next two years — assuming funding can be acquired from agencies like the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration — which would mean a total of seven electric buses in the service’s 26-bus fleet.

One of the Summit Stage’s new, and nearly silent, electric buses takes its inaugural trip around the County Commons in Frisco on Monday, Oct. 19.

Video: One of the Summit Stage’s new, and nearly silent, electric buses takes its inaugural trip around the County Commons in Frisco on Monday, Oct. 19.

“This really is a big priority for us because our fleet of diesel buses burns about as much fuel as the rest of Summit County’s fleet put together,” said Michael Wurzel, Summit County’s sustainability coordinator. “So when we electrify a bus, it’s a much bigger step than just electrifying one single light-duty car. … These three buses are just our first ones. We think we’re going to have four more over the next couple years, and that will be almost a third of the Stage’s fleet. If we can do that with the Summit Stage, we hope to be able to do that with the rest of our fleet, too.”

Wurzel said that in addition to ongoing efforts to convert the Summit Stage and the rest of the county’s vehicles to battery electric models, the county is also engaged in an electric vehicle readiness plan — in cooperation with the High Country Conservation Center — and plans to participate in Xcel Energy’s fleet electrification program, both of which are designed to help analyze the best way to go about electrifying vehicles and determining how best to implement necessary charging infrastructure.

“This transition takes time, it takes planning and it takes an investment in the county’s sustainable future,” Wurzel said.

The buses aren’t cheap with a price tag of about $918,000 each (compared with about $570,000 for a comparable diesel bus), but officials said the excess in cost up front should be more than offset with reduced maintenance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the 12-year lifespan of each bus, along with considerable fuel savings.

Lubbers also noted that he expects the electric buses to perform as well, if not better, than the current diesel models on the road today.

“When you’re leaving Silverthorne and coming up the hill on (Interstate 70) with a diesel bus, you slow down to about 40 mph, and with this bus you accelerate automatically up to 65 mph, and you stay at 65 the entire way up the hill,” Lubbers said. “We’re pleased with the torque and power, and we’ll certainly test the longevity of these, as well. But they’ve proven that so far in our training runs. I have high expectations for them. …

“It’s appropriate for an agency of our size not to extend ourselves to trying prototypes and technologies that haven’t been proven. But these have now been proven enough to the point we’re comfortable taking them on, and so are many other small agencies.”

In addition to helping Summit County meet its climate action goals, stakeholders are also hopeful that seeing a successful transition to electric vehicles for an agency like the Summit Stage will convince individuals and governments around the Western Slope and beyond to make similar changes.

“It’s going to encourage ski areas and communities across Colorado and the Mountain West,” Schenk said. “If we can run these at 9,000 or 10,000 feet in our cold weather environment, then I know we’re going to prove they can work here and inspire others to do the same thing.”

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