City News

YOUR GOVERNMENT: Cherriots to add 10 more electric buses

New electric buses and energy-efficient paratransit buses will be coming to Salem streets, with purchases approved by the Salem Area Mass Transit District board during their meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25.

The district, also known as Cherriots, also discussed legislative priorities for the year.

Board Member Sara Duncan was absent, meaning all unanimous votes were 6-0.

READ IT: Agenda

New battery electric buses

The board unanimously approved the purchase of 10 battery electric buses to replace diesel buses, bringing Cherriots closer to its goal of an all-electric fleet by 2040.

The buses will cost up to $12.8 million, paid for with federal and state grants plus $1.9 million in match from Cherriots. 

This summer, the district received its third “Low No” emissions grant for $6.6 million, a competitive federal program that provides funding for state and local governments to purchase low and zero emission buses and supporting facilities. 

Each diesel bus consumes an average of 37,230 gallons of fuel per year, according to the application. One electric bus will lower the amount of energy Cherriots uses per year by 5,234 gigajoules, the equivalent of 87 years’ worth of gas for the average American car.

Cherriots has won the grant before, and has received a total of $22.7 million in federal funds since 2020, with awards in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The investments, plus matches from Cherriots, were enough to buy a total of 20 buses and the associated chargers, engineering and improvements to facilities to accommodate the charging station.

The previously purchased set of 10 buses arrived in June, and will be driving routes in the coming months.

The batch of 10 that the board approved on Thursday are expected to be delivered by December of this year. 

New efficient paratransit buses

The board unanimously approved a purchase of seven compressed natural gas buses for the Cherriots LIFT service, which provide accessible transit for people with disabilities through scheduled rides. 

The buses will cost up to $1.3 million, and were previously approved by the board two years ago, but they canceled the order due to price increases and equipment unavailability. The project was renewed in September, and will use $717,842 from a federal grant program for accessible transportation, a $82,160 match from Cherriots and $497,082 from Oregon’s statewide transportation fund.

During the meeting, board members asked clarifying questions about passenger experience. The buses have a high step, but a lift with safety rails will be accessible to anyone who cannot climb the stairs. The inside of the buses will look similar to the inside of current buses, giving people in standard-sized wheelchairs enough room to make turns.

Legislative agenda and board priorities

The board unanimously approved its annual agenda to guide its goals in state and federal legislation for the next year, as proposed by Cherriots’ legislative subcommittee.

Their top priorities for the year, listed on page 22 of the agenda, include additional investments in public transportation, improving transit safety, and working with the legislature, advocates and community to study the expansion of a regional rail line from Portland to Salem.

Funding requests to the federal government this year include $7.5 million to build a transit center in south Salem centered on accessible transportation. They’re also seeking $7.8 million for six more zero-emission buses and $2 million to upgrade security fence around the Del Webb Facility.

Other items

-The board unanimously approved appointing board member Steve Anderson to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund Advisory Committee, for a two-year term ending in December 2025.  

-The board unanimously approved a $684,000 purchase of four in-ground heavy lifts to replace outdated ones at the Del Webb Maintenance Facility, where the fleet goes in for repairs and maintenance. The board also approved construction costs of $607,000 to install them.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.