Marin residents now have the opportunity ride a $2.25 million, environmentally-friendly bus around the county.
The zero-emissions bus, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, is rolling through the county's streets and on Highway 101, part of a state plan to cut the amount of diesel pollutants standard buses spew into the air.
The bus, paid for by federal, state, local and private grants, is free of emissions aside from a little water that trickles out of its tailpipe. It will run on Golden Gate Transit routes for about two years as transit officials judge its performance.
An edict from the California Air Resources Board requires transit districts that use diesel buses to build emission-free vehicles. Diesel exhaust particulate matter contains substances known to cause cancer and is a component of smog, according to the air resources board.
"One of the goals of the program is to commercialize zero-emission buses," said Steve Miller, director of maintenance for Golden Gate Transit's bus division. "They are very smooth and quiet because you don't have a diesel or natural gas engine rattling around. It's pretty neat."
The East Bay's AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit and other transit agencies have partnered to get prototypes on the road to determine how and if the buses work, and if they can be incorporated into their systems. This is the second generation of the hydrogen fuel cell; the first debuted in 2008 and Miller acknowledged its
performance was lacking. But this bus has done much better during the three weeks it has been on Marin's roads, he said.
Fuel cells do not burn the fuel they use. Instead, they combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity to propel the bus.
The bus is 40 feet long and nearly doubles the fuel economy of diesel buses. Hydrogen tanks on the roof give the bus a range of 220 to 240 miles, and batteries that recharge during braking can provide extra power for acceleration and climbing steep grades. The bus has to be sent to Emeryville each night to be charged.
Passengers shouldn't expect to see a fleet of the buses anytime soon.
"It is an expensive technology still," Miller said. A standard bus costs from $350,000 to $500,000. "The goal is to get away from depending on fossil fuels and foreign oil and greenhouse gases, which cause global warming. We are working towards that."
The zero-emissions bus is already operating or will soon on Routes 22, 23, 29, 10, 40, 42 and 92 in and around the county.
Designed for urban use, the bus has a top speed of 55 mph. That is a little slow for driver Gatot "Snowman" Tan.
"Slow speed, that is the downside," said Tan of Terra Linda, as he pulled into the San Rafael Transit Center late Tuesday morning. "And when you go up the hills it's hard, but for a basic route it is OK. There are no sounds at all. It's quiet, that's nice."
Passenger Dieter Schien of San Anselmo also noted the quietness of the 31,400-pound vehicle.
"The acoustics are different," he said. "On the older buses you can't have a conversation on the phone with all the noise."