Six new electric, plug shuttle buses will join a fleet of 28 compressed natural gas-powered buses and six diesel-powered buses at SFO. (Courtesy photo)

First electric, plug-in buses coming to San Francisco — but they won’t be Muni’s

The City of San Francisco’s first plug-in, electric buses will arrive by summer.

The City of San Francisco’s first plug-in, electric buses will arrive by summer, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

But in a twist, those buses of the future won’t belong to The City’s largest bus operator, Muni.

Instead, the electricity-charged rubber will hit the road at the San Francisco International Airport, which purchased six electric buses slated to arrive by June, according to the airport. They’ll hit the streets by December, tentatively.

Those buses will be part of the airport’s fleet of 40 shuttles. And just last Tuesday the San Francisco Airport Commission approved a call for bids to build the electric charging infrastructure — it’s important, after all, to have somewhere to plug those new buses in.

Those six new shuttle buses cost just shy of $5 million, according to the airport, and join a fleet of 28 compressed natural gas-powered buses and six diesel-powered buses.

SFO adopted a Clean Vehicle Policy in the year 2000, which encourages the airport to replace gasoline and diesel vehicles with clean air vehicles powered by alternative fuels and electricity. SFO’s carbon disclosure report sees it on track to meet The City’s goal of reducing emissions by 40 percent from its levels in 1990 by the year 2025, according to the airport’s self-reported metrics.

To be clear, there are electric buses already available for staff at nearby state-run hospitals, but these would be the first electric buses running purely for the general public, and operated by a San Francisco city agency.

Though the first fully battery-powered, plug-in electric buses won’t be Muni’s, that doesn’t mean the agency is far behind.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors approved its Zero Emission Policy in May last year, which called on Muni to procure battery-powered electric vehicles.

And in a coincidence of timing to the airport’s progress on battery-powered vehicles, the bids to build nine of Muni’s first battery-powered vehicles were due last Friday.

SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato confirmed SFMTA is in the “bid evaluation stage” for those electric buses.

A number of groups have pressured SFMTA in the past year to adopt electric plug-in buses for its fleet, including Earthjustice, GreenAction, Brightline Defense Project, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Asian Neighborhood Design, the Blue Green Alliance and the San Francisco Electrical Construction Industry, calling the effort necessary to combat climate change.

But Muni’s relatively recent fleet of New Flyer-built electric “trolley” buses, which draw power from overhead wires, can be converted to battery-using, plug-in buses fairly easily, SFMTA staff previously told the Examiner.

As for the airport, when it finally nets its six plug-in electric buses, it will retire six of its aging buses, which it mainly uses for backup when the AirTrain experiences an outage.

Those buses likely won’t be missed, as they were hand-me-downs from Muni in the first place.

joe@sfexaminer.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that electric buses are already operating in San Francisco as employee shuttles.

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