Fairfax Connector’s first electric buses hit the road, with more on the way

Electric buses have at last joined Northern Virginia’s largest local bus fleet.

Fairfax Connector launched the eight battery-powered vehicles out of its West Ox Operations and Maintenance Center (4970 Alliance Drive) at 10:30 a.m. last Thursday (Sept. 28), a critical first step forward in the transit system’s plan to phase out diesel or gas-fueled buses.

Supported by four newly installed, 150-kilowatt chargers with two dispensers each, the buses have 39 passenger seats and can travel up to 250 miles on a single charge, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

“Battery electric buses represent a monumental leap forward in eco-friendly transportation,” FCDOT said in a news release. “These vehicles offer a wide range of environmental benefits, including a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a significant reduction in air and noise pollution, and decreased dependence on fossil fuels.”

Another eight electric buses are in the works as part of the new pilot program. Four vehicles currently in production will be delivered to the Huntington Bus Garage, while the other four haven’t started production yet and aren’t slated to arrive until 2025.

The initial eight buses will be deployed on six different routes, covering a wide swath of the county:

  • 310: Franconia Road-Rolling Valley
  • 395: Gambrill-Pentagon Express
  • 901: Herndon Metro-Centreville
  • 632: Westfields Blvd-Walney Road
  • 463: Maple Avenue-Vienna
  • 615: Fair Oaks-Greenbriar

The next eight buses will also be tested “on various routes in the coming months,”  FCDOT communications head Freddy Serrano said.

The pilot is launching a little behind schedule. The county had previously hoped to have electric buses on the road by December 2022.

“Additional supply chain impacts caused by the pandemic delayed manufacturing,” Serrano said. “Also, a factory recall was issued and remedied before acceptance of the buses.”

Electric bus recalls sparked by a battery fire this spring also delayed deliveries to Metro, which is expecting 12 vehicles for the first phase of its transition plan and recently landed funds to help convert its Cinder Bed Road Bus Division garage in Franconia into a fully electric facility.

Fairfax County started exploring using electric vehicles for public transportation by piloting an autonomous Relay shuttle in Merrifield until this past June. The Department of Public Works and Environmental Services recently unveiled its first electric trash truck, and Fairfax County Public Schools has added a few electric school buses to its fleet.

While these are Fairfax Connector’s first electric buses, the agency already had several electric support vehicles, including 14 sedans and chargers at its Fair Oaks offices (4050 Legato Road) and two electric vehicles with six chargers at the Herndon Bus Garage (268 Spring Street).

“The pilot program includes several phases and is the first of many steps toward a more sustainable transit system in Fairfax County,” FCDOT transit services division chief and Fairfax Connector head Dwayne Pelfrey said. “Information obtained during the pilot program and on-going evaluation of various technologies will guide strategic decisions in the coming years as we work to build tomorrow’s transit system today.”

Pledging to become carbon-neutral by 2040, Fairfax County adopted an operational energy strategy in 2021 with goals that included halting all diesel bus purchases after this fiscal year — which ends June 30, 2024 — and fully transitioning all buses and fleet vehicles to electricity or a non-carbon-emitting power source by 2035.

Fairfax Connector has more than 300 buses that carry approximately 26,000 riders on 93 routes daily.