Along with everything else in which you have to share a relatively small space with a lot of people, public transportation has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. How transit agencies are responding varies. What is often forgotten when it comes to public transportation is that there’s high-capacity public transportation and low-capacity public transportation. In particular, public transit agencies serve rural communities with things like small shuttles and vanpools.
In California, Orange County (the Orange County Transportation Authority) has made a couple of changes when it comes to its vanpools. First of all, the fleet of vehicles in operation has dropped from 470 vehicles to 164 vehicles. The large shift to telecommuting (working from home) cut demand dramatically, as did people simply not wanting to share a vehicle with other people.
In the midst of this cut in operations, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is also beginning a shift to electric vehicles, which will presumably cut operational costs. The first vehicle it is using is the Tesla Model X, via Green Commuter. (Technically, OCTA doesn’t operate the vanpools — it just subsidizes them.)
“The all-electric vanpool vehicle is being used by five employees who work in Seal Beach at the Naval Weapons Station. They commute approximately 140 miles roundtrip each day from near Murrieta in southern Riverside County,” OCTA shares. That comes to 35,000 miles a year if you assume 50 weeks of operation 5 days a week. As we’ve shown in many “total cost of ownership” analyses, the more a person or business drives, the more switching to electricity saves money. At 35,000 miles a year, OCTA can likely save money compared to a lower quality, less appealing gasoline alternative. No doubt, the passengers must appreciate the upgrade. Plus, there’s that critical point that it cuts emissions.
Also, consider that while this Tesla Model X replaces just one gasoline van, it electrifies the commute for 5 people. Effectively, that’s 5 gasoline vehicles not on the road driving long distances almost every day.
We’ve long seen long-distance trips and high-capacity vehicles as a prime way to cut emissions while providing a better transportation experience at lower cost. (That’s the reason I cofounded Tesla Shuttle.) So, although this is only one vehicle at the moment, I think the news is worth highlighting. If it goes well on this route, OCTA could electrify a lot more of these high-mileage vehicles, and other vanpool operators and transit agencies around the country (or the world) could look into this appealing option.
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