ECO Transit seeking grants, using millions in existing reserves
An all-electric bus can cost $1 million or more
- A .5% sales tax increase
- Improving service and adding routes
- A fare-free zone in the upper valley
- Accelerating the transition of transit fleets to zero-emission vehicles
The torrent of federal spending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic may benefit the new Eagle Valley Transportation Authority. But it could take a while.
County officials are now looking into how to apply for a range of mostly federal grants. Those grants usually require a local match. That shouldn’t be a problem.
In a telephone interview, ECO Transit Director Tanya Allen said that county agency expects to have $18 million in the bank by the end of this year. Allen said previous federal relief was put into ECO Transit operations. That put the agency’s normal revenue sources — farebox collections and the existing 0.5% sales tax — into reserves.
“We want to leverage (that money) into grants, Allen said, adding that reserves are usually used for matching funds for grants. “Given that we have larger reserves can lead to larger (grant requests).”
Just applying for a grant is no guarantee of getting it. But, Allen said, ECO officials see the opportunity to upgrade the existing fleet and provide seed money for the transportation authority.
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Still, she added, “We feel we have a compelling case to make.”
Those grants will likely be used for both electric and conventional diesel fuel-powered buses.
The electric conversion will be an expensive one. Buses are currently about $1 million each, not counting the cost of charging equipment. Then there’s the question of just how much time on the road each of those buses can spend in a day.
While ECO’s current electric buses have an estimated range of about 300 miles, Allen said that range can vary, sometimes significantly, based on factors including weather, individual driving styles, traffic and other factors.
Those buses are currently running between four and six hours per day.
Still, the grants for electric vehicles require a lower local match. Allen said federal grants usually cover about 90% of the cost of new buses. The feds generally cover 80% of the cost of diesel buses.
And, despite a drive at the county level to convert as much of the fleet as possible to electric vehicles, there’s still a need for conventionally-powered vehicles.
Allen in a Monday presentation to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners said longer routes, such as service from Leadville, still require diesel buses. Electric technology “just isn’t there yet,” she said.
It also takes time to get either an electric or diesel bus into service.
Allen said the grant process, if successful, could mean new vehicles could be ordered early in 2024. Since buses are built to order, it can take 12 to 18 months for delivery.
Joyce Rihaniek of Vail Transit noted that the town currently has four full-electric buses, with another six on back order.
Allen said the order time isn’t quite as long for diesel buses. Smaller vehicles are “significantly easier to get,” Allen said. Smaller vehicles will be a key part of the transportation authority’s expanded mission for added routes and, perhaps, “first-mile, last-mile” service for riders.
Allen told the commissioners Monday that ECO will need to apply for the grants, but any grant-funded assets or active grants can be transferred to the new authority.
The commissioners Monday gave Allen the go-ahead to pursue as many grants as possible, with Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney saying, “Go big or go home.”