The nation's first electric school bus has gone into operation, marking a breakthrough for its producer, Oxnard-based APS Systems.
The bus, a full-sized yellow vehicle that can carry 66 passengers, began service in the Goleta Union School District near Santa Barbara last week. APS' share of the project was $120,000. APS, backed by the CALSTART transportation consortium, purchased a diesel-powered vehicle and converted its engine and power train to run on lead-acid batteries.
APS, a small company that formerly depended heavily on defense work, expects to be busy turning out battery-operated transit vehicles for many years.
On the heels of its pioneering school bus project, APS is now completing two shuttle buses that will serve downtown Santa Barbara. An APS-produced electric bus already serves that city, says Nick Advani, the company's president and chief executive.
APS also is planning battery-operated shuttle buses for Santa Maria and Solvang, Advani says. And the firm's engineers are working on dual-use engines that can be powered by batteries as well as other fuels.
"We're getting inquiries from all over the country--in fact, from all over the world," Advani says. "Mainly, people are interested because electric buses are emission-free. They're also very quiet and cheaper to operate than conventional buses."
On the other hand, the initial cost of electric buses is higher than that of their conventional counterparts, Advani concedes.
The bus now operating in Goleta looks like any other school bus, Advani says.
"We finished the job in only four months, but it took another five months to get approval from the Highway Patrol and several other government agencies," Advani says. "The delays were understandable, though. This was a new concept, and children's safety was involved."
The vehicle operates for 50 to 60 miles on a single charge--a distance that fits the school district's needs, Advani says.
Until two years ago, APS worked mostly on building ground-support equipment for U.S. military aircraft. The company, which has only 46 employees, turned to electric buses when its defense orders began to dry up.