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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Bobby Frost drives the Electric Express, a zero-emission bus, in Park City on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Park City Transit will operate the Proterra Catalyst electric bus during the Sundance Film Festival.

PARK CITY — Most times of year, driving in the high altitudes of Summit County includes blue skies and much less smog than the Salt Lake Valley. To that end, Park City is making a transportation investment that civic leaders hope will pay big environmental dividends for years to come.

Park City Transit on Tuesday announced the purchase of six new zero-emission, all-electric buses for use in the public transportation system beginning this spring.

The new energy-efficient vehicles will establish the nation’s first electric bus-rapid transit route in a resort community — along state Route 224, explained Park City Councilwoman Becca Gerber.

“We spent $3.9 million on these six buses,” Gerber said, adding that the full fleet will be deployed by June.

Park City has a goal of becoming completely carbon-neutral by 2032 and is working to develop a renewable energy source to generate power for the fleet by 2022, Gerber said.

“At that point, we will really be walking the talk toward having a better environment, reducing climate change, reducing carbon in our atmosphere, preserving our way of life and our air quality,” she said.

The buses were purchased in cooperation with the Utah Department of Transportation and Summit County, Gerber said.

“The electric buses will make a contribution to the reduction in local tailpipe emissions and will assist with the county's climate action goals," Summit County Councilman Glenn Wright said.

The new buses are manufactured by Bay Area technology firm Proterra. Headquartered in Burlingame, California, the company has customers in 29 transit areas across the country.

According to Alan Westenskow, director of business development for Proterra, the new bus has been developed to be exceptionally efficient and cost-effective.

“We made it significantly lighter using carbon fiber and advanced composite materials,” Westenskow said. “We’ve put batteries all along the bottom, and that gives us energy to take the bus wherever we need to.”

The new vehicles have a substantial range, he said, and get the equivalent of about 21 miles per gallon compared with around 4 miles per gallon for a standard diesel bus.

The electric bus also requires far less maintenance because of its electric motor and the absence of oil and other fluids needed to run a traditional internal combustion engine, Westenskow said.

“It doesn’t look anything like the guts of a diesel bus. You have 30 percent fewer moving parts,” he said. “It has a small engine with a drivetrain, and that’s all you have.”

The buses are designed to run for at least 12 years, Westenskow said, though some test models have already operated longer. Because the buses are made with corrosion-resistant materials with no metal, they should last for years longer — particularly in warm climates, he said.

Though an electric bus typically costs about 40 percent more upfront than a traditional diesel buses, the energy-efficient vehicle pays for itself over its lifetime, Westenskow noted.

Park City is purchasing the new buses at a discounted price closer to the $500,000 cost of a diesel vehicle, and leasing the batteries at an additional cost that makes the electric buses more affordable in the short and long term, he said.

“That means their out-of-pocket costs are the same, and they use their savings from the lower operational and maintenance costs to pay for the use of the batteries,” Westenskow explained. “The technology risk related to batteries is on Proterra.”

Prior to the June replacement date, Park City Transit will operate one of the vehicles during the Sundance Film Festival, which begins Thursday and runs through Jan. 29.

“We are excited to complement Sundance’s New Climate programming with Park City’s new zero-emission, battery-electric bus,” Mayor Jack Thomas said. “It’s our hope that this preview of our new Proterra fleet to visitors from around the world will inspire others to consider clean, quiet, electric transit in their communities.”