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Board of Supervisors Embrace Plan to Pilot Electric Buses

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors indicated interest in a pilot program for electric-powered buses during its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

During the meeting, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny delivered an presentation that explained the “ins and outs” of electric vehicles and included a proposal for moving forward with a pilot plan.

The next step would be to return to the supervisors with a more in-depth financial plan that includes details such as when and where this would take place, and how long the demonstration would last, which could be in the early part of 2021, Biesiadny says.

“This is exciting,”said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay. “Clearly we need to jump into this area and we need to do it quickly.”

Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchick supported a pilot because it would help ensure the county implements these changes correctly.

“This is the future,” she said. “We need to stop going backward. I’m hopeful to see a plan not just to see a pilot but do a demonstration project, which in my mind, means ‘how can we move forward?'”

A pilot with four buses could cost between $3.8 million and $4.2 million, a gross cost that does not take into account sources of funding. Some money has been set aside through a bus replacement program, and there are grants available, Biesiadny said.

FCDOT has in-house and external expertise from Fairfax’s “ongoing partnership with Dominion Energy” and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit team to draw from, said Tom Reynolds, the FCDOT Section Chief of Transit Services Division.

The pilot would help the department learn about the buses’ range and charging, how they perform during different seasons of the year and on various local and express routes, and what staff training needs to be done, Reynolds said.

“The sooner we do the pilot, the sooner we see the results of it, the sooner we can start to make longer-term decisions about some of the capital costs that would be necessary if we were to expand this,” McKay said.

When the county talks about costs, Palchik — who said she developed childhood asthma living in the area — and Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw emphasized the costs of treating asthma and the health impacts of poor air quality.

“In Virginia, we spend $87 million a year because of asthma hospitalization,” Walkinshaw said. “Fairfax County is lower, but Route One is higher. Annandale is higher. Other parts of the county are higher. It would be a small thing, but as we look at this pilot, we might want to look at locating it in parts of the county that have been hit harder by asthma.”

Fairfax County’s first effort to introduce electric vehicles into public transit came this year with the autonomous Relay shuttle now operating in the Mosaic District. That demonstration project is a partnership with Dominion Energy, Biesiadny said.

Photo via Electrify America; Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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