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A Fairfax Connector bus leaves the Dunn Loring Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax Connector is set to start its electric bus pilot program by the end of the year.

The county-run bus service plans to introduce eight electric buses by December, according to a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee last week.

Phase one of the pilot program will run out of the West Ox bus division, which serves routes in the western and central portion of the county. Initially, electric buses will be tested on four routes. Phase two is expected to begin in 2023 and will include four additional buses on routes in the southern portion of the county.

No exact timetable was given for how long the pilot program is anticipated to last, but it will likely follow other neighboring localities and run about two years.

Planned routes for the Fairfax Connector electric bus pilot (via Fairfax County)

The hope is to transition the entire Fairfax Connector fleet to 100% zero emission buses by 2035. This deadline is based on the county’s established goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

Staff identified several challenges that they will closely monitor, including ensuring there’s no reduction in service as a result of the transition. Several supervisors noted during the meeting that slower service, a reduction of routes, or constant maintenance taking buses offline could lead to fewer riders.

There are also technology limits to consider and whether the electrical grid will meet the energy requirements needed for large bus fleets.

According to the county’s Chief of Transit Dwayne Pelfrey, two thirds of current Fairfax Connector routes exceed the battery capability of electric buses. Coupled with potential issues with cold weather and hills, like Alexandria experienced late last year, electric buses may not completely meet the needs of the Fairfax Connector just yet.

That, in turn, could push potential riders back to single-occupancy vehicles, negating the emission reductions that many hope electric buses will provide.

Pelfrey also noted that obtaining buses has been increasingly difficult between supply chain issues and manufacturers not being ready to “pivot” to producing electric vehicles.

The used bus market is difficult to navigate as well, though the county did purchase 10 used buses out of North Carolina that will be transitioning to electric and 12 hybrid buses from WMATA.

A rendering of what a Fairfax Connector electric bus might look like (via Fairfax County)

Considering the county’s goals and the current price of gasoline, though, staff and board members believe the issues are worth navigating. While capital and infrastructure costs may be higher for electric buses, fuel and maintenance costs would be significantly lower over a 12-year period, according to a graph presented by staff.

The county is also exploring using hydrogen as fuel, but that technology remains expensive and more costly than electricity.

The county has already started creating infrastructure in preparation for the pilot to begin in about six months. Electric chargers arrived in April and are currently being installed, a process expected to be completed within the month.

“We are just doing simply plug-in chargers,” Pelfrey said. “When we transition full garages…we will have to do something much, much more complicated from a construction and power standpoint.”

The county’s electric buses are expected to start being manufactured late next month, received by October, and put on the road by December.

Fairfax Connector is the largest bus system in Virginia with a fleet of more than 300 buses providing nearly 18,000 rides a day.

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An electric vehicle charging station at the Herrity Building in Fair Oaks (staff photo by David Taube)

Fairfax County hopes to rely entirely on electric and non-carbon-emitting vehicles by 2035, but projected costs could become an obstacle.

While the county government already has electric vehicle charging stations across several parking garages, future installations could require double or triple the current estimated cost of $75,000 per site, Kambiz Agazi, the director of the county’s Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination, reported on Tuesday (May 17).

“Cost estimates have been upended by the pandemic-related market disruptions” to construction, he told the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting, adding that staff are tracking Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant possibilities.

According to the staff presentation, county sites slated to get electric vehicles or new charging stations within the next year include the Public Safety Headquarters, a maintenance facility on Jermantown Road, and the Herndon-Monroe parking garage.

County staff are also evaluating police stations for a pilot project that could start at two stations.

Fairfax County’s planned electric vehicle projects for 2022 (via Fairfax County)

Meanwhile, the county is finally starting to see some progress on the dozens of solar energy projects it has in the works.

Solar panels could be added to the Sully Community Center this summer. A third party could also install panels on the Lorton Community Center, but a lease wasn’t finalized at the time of the presentation.

In addition, the county is spending nearly $3.9 million on projects to improve energy efficiency at the Cub Run and South Run RECenters as well as the Fairfax City Library. Upgrades include lighting, electricity, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Construction is currently underway on those three projects and is expected to finish this year. The changes will reduce the facilities’ annual costs by $153,000 per year and reduce their carbon dioxide equivalent by approximately 1,245 tons, according to the county.

That translates to removing nearly 271 vehicles from the road per year.

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Morning Notes

The crowds returned for the first Taste of Vienna since the COVID-19 pandemic started (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Reminder: FFXnow Wants Your Input — FFXnow is conducting a survey to learn more about our readers and help shape future coverage. What kinds of stories interest you? Have strong feelings about the Tysons Reporter and Reston Now merger, or the length of our stories? Let us know before the survey closes after Sunday, May 15.

Former Falls Church Bicycle Shop Owner’s Mythology Unravels — “We’re not just talking about one man’s fabrications, but the ripples from those fabrications: a team of riders that allege abuse at [Nick] Clark’s hands, a series of embellished life events stretching back to the 1990s, ties with the political and military elite, alleged misrepresentations across multiple industries, and possible stolen military valour.” [Cycling Tips]

Police Thanked for Catching Victoria’s Secret Thieves — “The Fairfax County Police Department’s Tysons Urban Team (TUT) was recognized by executives from Victoria’s Secret on Friday for breaking up a retail theft ring. The thieves are believed to be responsible for the loss of more than $250,000 of merchandise from stores throughout the southern U.S.” [FCPD/Facebook]

Woman Who Sold Mantua Home With Squatter Speaks — “After days of speculation about the identity of the person living in the basement of a viral Zillow listing, the woman has come forward to tell her side of the unusual story. Last week, her Fairfax, Va., home…sold for more than $800,000 with the condition that it came with a person living in the basement who did not have a lease.” [WUSA9]

FCPD Seeks Person Behind Clifton Starbucks Vandalism — “Officers responded to the Starbucks at 5748 Union Mill Road in Clifton for a burglary report on April 27, when someone broke the front window and stole a Progress Pride flag from inside and left. The following morning, officers responded to the same Starbucks for a similar incident.” [ABC7]

Metro Shares Plan to Electrify Bus Fleet — “Metro expects to purchase 12 electric buses and associated charging equipment this year as part of the Battery-Electric Bus Test and Evaluation Program. The buses will begin arriving late this year and go into service in 2023 out of the Shepherd Parkway Bus Division.” [WMATA]

Man Convicted of Killing Fairfax Couple Denied Parole — “The Maryland Parole Commission denied parole to Sifrit, in his first parole hearing, since being sentenced to 38 years in prison, after he and his then-wife Erika killed and dismembered Martha Crutchley and Joshua Ford, of Fairfax City, over Memorial Day weekend almost 20 years ago.” [WTOP]

Capital One Center Named “Best New Development” — The Washington Business Journal has given its “Best New Development” award to Capital One Center, which is bringing 1.47 million square feet of construction to the financial company’s Tysons headquarters. The Reston Gateway office high-rises in Boston Properties’ Reston Town Center expansion was named a finalist. [WBJ]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 76 and low of 60. Sunrise at 6:11 am and sunset at 8:03 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Flint Hill Elementary School students let their green flag fly during a visit yesterday (Monday) from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan.

Invited by the environmental advocacy groups Mothers Out Front and Moms Clean Air Force, Regan stopped by the Vienna school to discuss the federal government’s plans to expand the use of electric school buses over diesel ones, a transition that he said Fairfax County Public Schools is helping lead.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is demonstrating exceptional leadership in being an early participant in what we hope will be a widespread, nationwide movement,” Regan said at a press conference, which followed a bus ride and a student roundtable. “Zero-emission school buses can and one day will be the American standard.”

FCPS received its first electricity-powered school bus in January 2021 and now has eight total in its fleet of 1,625 buses. The district was awarded a $2.7 million state grant in August to add another 10 electric buses.

At the time of the announcement, the new buses were expected to arrive this March, but FCPS says they are now scheduled to come off the assembly line around June 25 in time for delivery in July.

“The supplier has some additional upfitting to do before delivery to align with our specifications,” FCPS said by email. “They will not be placed into full operation (with students aboard) until Fall of 2022.”

Superintendent Scott Brabrand reaffirmed yesterday that the school system aims to achieve carbon neutrality with its bus fleet by 2035.

The EPA announced $17 million in rebates on March 7 to help schools across the country transition to electric buses. That includes $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds intended for underserved communities that might not be able to afford electric vehicles and charging equipment on their own.

Congress committed an additional $5 billion over the next five years to replacing diesel buses with vehicles that emit lower or no greenhouse gas emissions with its passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure law in November. The EPA anticipates announcing a first round of funding next month, according to Regan.

“This investment will transform how millions of students get to school each and every day. It will help clean the air we breathe, protect public health, and tackle the climate crisis,” Regan said, stating that the recent surge in gas prices stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further highlights the need to transition from fossil fuels to clean, more sustainable energy sources.

While the event focused on electric school buses, FCPS officials and students used the occasion to also put a spotlight on the district’s Get2Green program, which promotes environmental stewardship and education.

Flint Hill Elementary has embraced the program enthusiastically, obtaining its first Green Flag award from the National Wildlife Federation in May 2014 and becoming a permanent Green Flag school in 2019.

Students on the school’s Green Team have helped implement projects from a composting program to flower seed collections and distributions. They partnered with Bryn Awel Primary School in Wales to learn about plastic pollution in oceans and gather data for NASA’s Globe program.

Fifth-grade student Eddie Felber attributed his appreciation for the natural world to Flint Hill’s courtyard, which features a chicken coop, a monarch waystation, and native plant and vegetable gardens. Tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, and other produce from the gardens are used in the school’s cafeteria salad bar.

“We will not stop, because we cannot afford to stop,” sixth-grade student Lena Mudrick said. “We’re the kids now, but we have to make sure to improve the environment for future generations. Our school is incredible in helping student-led projects make change, and we hope more schools will have these opportunities.”

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A new rebate program that starts next year would give thousands of dollars to Virginians who buy or lease an electric vehicle.

But it’s not funded.

Fairfax County officials said the Virginia House of Delegates sought to put $5 million into the program, which awards $2,500 rebates and more, but that money wasn’t included in the General Assembly’s budget.

“Until the General Assembly funds the rebates, there won’t be any rebates,” said Tarah Kesterson, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

Her department is tasked with establishing a website to administer the program that includes weekly updates about the availability of funds.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam approved HB 1979 — the bill that created the program — on March 31, and it went into effect July 1. It stated that the rebates depend upon available funds.

The rebates would cover vehicles that must use electricity as their only source of power. They’d cover two categories:

  • new and leased vehicles that have a base price of $55,000 or less
  • used vehicles that cost $25,000 or less

Introduced by Loudoun County Del. David A. Reid, the legislation was intended to encourage greater adoption of electric vehicles in the Commonwealth. About 7% of U.S. adults have an electric or a hybrid vehicle, an adoption rate that lags behind China and Europe, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ legislative committee, which tracks state bills and determines the county’s policy positions and priorities, discussed the matter during a meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 21).

Board Chairman Jeff McKay, who serves as vice chair of the committee, suggested that the state should also modify a second rebate that was included in the bill.

Under the law, an additional rebate of $2,000 could be used for people whose household income is 300% or less of the federal poverty level, which currently equates to $38,640 for a single adult or $65,880 for a family of three.

McKay said that threshold would shut out many people in Fairfax County, even though they would be more likely to buy an electric vehicle than residents of some other parts of the state.

“This is really important from an equity standpoint,” McKay said. “Those can be affordable vehicles with these [types] of rebate programs.”

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