VIA Metropolitan Transit showed off Friday one of eight new electric buses the transit agency will add to its 500-plus fleet later this year.

The 40-foot-long Arc buses — the name is a nod to their power source — designed and manufactured in California, were procured through a federal grant delivered to VIA in December. Each bus cost roughly $1 million and can seat up to 38 passengers.

Despite being powered up, the bus made no noise as it idled in front of VIA’s downtown transit center, the hum of a fossil fuel-powered engine noticeably absent. Painted in VIA’s traditional red, white and gray, the buses announce they’re “100% ELECTRIC POWERED” on each side.

The Arcs are another step toward an eventual zero-emission fleet, said VIA’s President and CEO Jeff Ardnt.

Today, almost all of VIA’s buses run on compressed natural gas — which is cleaner and quieter than gasoline and diesel, but still gives off some greenhouse gas emissions. 

VIA completed converting its fleet to compressed natural gas in 2020 as part of a multi-year plan to significantly reduce vehicle emissions, decrease operating costs and allow the agency to carry out planned service enhancements, said Ardnt. The switch to electric buses will further these goals, he said.

“I think the ultimate goal would be that — when we do our next major fleet conversion, which is probably toward the end of the decade — to trend toward zero-emission vehicles,” he said. “We went with compressed natural gas which emits 97% less than the diesel buses — but it’s not a zero-emission vehicle like these are.”

He added that the mass transit agency expects to have the buses integrated into regular bus routes by “the middle of the year.”

Inside, the ADA-compliant bus had that new car smell. Built for efficiency, the seats are packed tightly together. A single yellow seat in the front row honors Rosa Parks.

It also sported a few upgrades. Every seat has a USB port, either under or behind it. Two charging ports are located where the gas cap would be; each bus has ports on both sides, to make it easy for bus drivers to park and charge.

The buses also come with a regenerative brake system, which captures the kinetic energy from braking and converts it into the electrical power that charges the vehicle’s high-voltage battery.

Each new bus has a 150-mile range, and requires only four hours of charging to be completely loaded. They will be charged at VIA’s bus yard and maintenance facility, where the agency constructed a new station to support electric vehicles.

These are not VIA’s first electric buses, although they will be VIA’s only operating ones. VIA first introduced electric battery-powered buses in 2013; the agency bought three with a $5 million federal grant, according to the Express-News. They have since retired from VIA’s fleet, Ardnt said, due to the buses’ 30-mile range.

The new buses will come online at a critical time for vehicle fleet owners. With emissions testing set to roll out in Bexar County by the end of 2026, electric vehicles are exempt from such testing and its associated costs.

For now, VIA is still testing the eight new buses, training staff and operators, and finalizing the new charging infrastructure. After these steps are complete, the buses will be integrated into some of the agency’s 98 bus routes.

“The addition of new all-electric buses keeps VIA moving in the right direction with green technologies that are advancing to a point that makes them practical as well as sustainable,” Arndt said.

VIA Metropolitan Transit is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.