Recently sanitized and reconfigured Cherriots buses are seen at the Del Webb Operations Facility. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem’s longest bus route will be served by electric buses a year from now, thanks to a federal grant.

Cherriots, Salem’s mass transit agency, has received a $6.3 million federal grant that will help it move forward with transitioning its fleet to low-carbon fuels.

Allan Pollock, Cherriot’s general manager and CEO, said the agency will use the money along with a $3.2 million grant it secured last year to purchase 10 electric buses from Gillig, a company based in Livermore, California, The money will also be used to pay for charging stations and supporting infrastructure.

The electric buses are part of Cherriots’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its fleet of 76 buses. In 2019, Cherriots switched more than half of its fleet from compressed natural gas to renewable natural gas, which is made from fumes captured from landfills and is considered a cleaner fuel. Cherriots also has plans to incorporate electric buses into its fleet as it phases out those fueled by diesel. 

Electric buses are largely unused in the U.S. and there are fewer than a thousand in use in North America, according to an estimate from market research company. To see how well electric buses perform, Cherriots plans to put them to work on Route 11.

At roughly 12 miles, it’s the agency’s longest route that connects the Keizer Transit Center to the Marion County Correctional Facility and travels on a stretch of Lancaster Drive. The route uses eight buses at peak hours, so Route 11 will be entirely electric once the new vehicles are running, said Pollock. 

“From an equity standpoint, we wanted to make sure that we were looking at all socio-economic neighborhoods in our service,” said Pollock.

Cherriots picked the route to ensure that a broad cross-section of neighborhoods will benefit from the buses’ reduced air pollution and noise, said Pollock. He also pointed out that it serves Chemeketa Community College and many retailers on Lancaster Drive.

“It’s a nice slice of everything,” Pollock said of Route 11.

Cherriots had originally planned to put five electric buses on the route, but the new grant means Route 11 will be entirely served by the vehicles. Pollock said that means Cherriots won’t have to pull the buses off the road for maintenance. That will allow for better collection of data on their efficiencies, such as how long they can go between charges.

The grant is part of a Federal Transit Administration program intended to facilitate the use of low and no-emission vehicles that Pollock described as highly competitive. Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley applauded the grant in a statement saying it would reduce air pollution and help address climate change.

“These resources for Salem Cherriots to afford low-emission vehicles will be a game-changer for increased transit services in a fast-growing region, and I’ll keep working to secure similar infrastructure investments statewide,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, in a statement announcing the grant.

Ian Davidson, the president of Cherriots’ board, took to Twitter after the grant was announced to point out that it comes at a time when Salem and other areas face drought and record-breaking heat.

“We are already feeling the effects of climate change. I am very proud of the steps we are taking to (make) our community delightfully livable with these quiet and clean buses,” he said.

 Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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