First electric bus soon to be on the streets

Thais Oliveira
Posted 8/23/23

The first electric bus in Jefferson County will debut on the streets in no time.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

First electric bus soon to be on the streets


The first electric bus in Jefferson County will debut on the streets in no time.

Jefferson Transit Authority purchased the battery electric GILLIG vehicle in May and just finished the installation of the plug-in charger at their secured lot at Four Corners. The $1.2 million project is the first step in a large plan to systematically replace the current 15-strong bus fleet with zero emissions vehicles.

Other efforts to lower all greenhouse gas emissions include a no-idle policy for all their fleet (buses, Dial-a-Ride vans, and working cars). Debbie Jahnke explained how an idling motor releases harmful chemicals, gases and particle pollution into the air, contributing to ozone, regional haze, and global climate change.

“Taking the bus is a way to cut back on both the expense of transportation and have an impact on our climate footprint,” she added. Jahnke is a member of the Transit Advisory Group (TAG), a volunteer-led group with the mission of outreach to the community.

She noted it isn’t just carbon that causes pollution — tires do, too.

“The fewer cars on the road, the better. Especially in the summer when parking is a big issue downtown, leaving your car at the park and ride bus station by Safeway and hopping on the trolley, proves to be both convenient and responsible. We also connect with the Larry Scott Trail and have bike racks on all buses,” she said.

In order to remove barriers to riders of all backgrounds and make sure people get on the bus, the new management at Jefferson Authority made sure a comprehensive plan was included in their overall strategic development. The agency expanded the board for the first time in 50 years, formed TAG, and hired General Manager Nicole Gauthier in December 2022. Since then, it has been able to add service to some of its routes to better accommodate riders, with additional runs to the No. 4 route, upper Sims Way route, the No. 11 trolley, downtown shuttle, the No. 6, tri-area route on Saturdays, and a summer schedule for the Kingston Express service. Changes to the schedule are based on customer feedback, as Gauthier said the agency relies on public input for crafting its routes and times. 

The agency will continue to be zero fare. “We stopped collecting fares during the pandemic to avoid contact between driver and passenger and kept it that way with the exception of the Kingston Express route, which connects riders with the ferry service in Kingston to Edmonds,” Gauthier explained.

Gauthier said the agency tries to avoid the term “free fare” because residents have paid for the transit services through their sales taxes. 

“If you are spending money in our county, you are paying fare,” Gauthier said. Thanks to recent ballot measures approved by Jefferson County voters, JTA currently receives the maximum amount of sales tax — 0.9 percent — allowed by legislation, making 74 percent of the funding from sales tax revenue and 26 percent from federal pass-through grants administered by the state Department of Transportation.

Now that the charging station is complete, the logistics and operations of the first electric bus start. Driving one of those vehicles is different than the biodiesel buses it typically runs, and drivers are hoping to be trained later this month. They will also run tests on range, battery life, and charging times. The estimate range is between 190 and 270 miles, but only when all the information is gathered will the agency determine which of the current eight routes the electric bus will serve.