STA plans to purchase first electric bus with money from Volkswagen settlement

Spokane and surrounding communities will get new electric and low-emission buses with money from the state's emissions settlement with Volkswagen. The car company used software that only reduced emissions on its diesel vehicles while they were being tested, allowing them to create more pollution during daily use than state or federal law allowed.

With $500,000 from the more than $28 million state settlement, Spokane Transit Authority (STA) will purchase its first electric bus, says Andrew Wineke, a spokesman for the Department of Ecology. The amount is expected to cover the cost difference between an all-electric bus and a standard diesel bus.

But it's not clear yet when the electric bus might be purchased, as STA is in the middle of a study that will inform if and how its entire fleet can transition to zero emissions, STA spokesman Brandon Rapez-Betty says.

"It's the first electric bus. However, we don't really have a very specific date for procurement," Rapez-Betty says. "Some agencies we learned from jumped into electrification right away, only to learn electric is a different world from diesel. For example, you cannot tow an electric bus, it has to be loaded on a trailer and hauled back. So we want to do a more conservative approach, then start to make decisions."

The first electric bus would likely go into use on the Monroe-Regal line that is supposed to launch next fall, he says.

Mead and Medical Lake will also get 10 new school buses between them using money from the settlement. Those lower emission buses may run on propane or newer diesel engines with better efficiency and emissions protections.

"[Buses are] a good target because they have a big diesel engine in them, and you get some serious emission reductions," Wineke says. "It's a great opportunity to put this money to work and we're pretty excited about it, especially in places like Spokane where it's their first bus and they might not have been able to get the electric bus without some of this assistance."

Even more electric transit vehicles may be purchased in 2019, when the state starts spending its share of the separate federal VW settlement, which gives Washington more than $112 million to work with. (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)