Stockton Is Building an All-Electric Bus Rapid Transit Route
San Joaquin Regional Transit District began construction Monday on a long-planned all-electric Bus Rapid Transit route (BRT) that will provide faster trips to key destinations for residents of South Stockton.
Stockton’s BRT is a somewhat pared-down version of what’s known as Bus Rapid Transit. Called Metro Express (soon to be just Express), the Stockton routes feature fare collection before boarding, straight routes with few turns, and synchronization with other transit connections, all of which add up to a faster trip.
Terry Williams, public information officer for San Joaquin RTD, said there has been a demand for faster service in the South Stockton area. The new route will travel along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Edison High School in the west to Mariposa Avenue and East 8th Street in the east.
The route is part of a larger expansion of bus rapid transit for the agency. “Our goal is to have a complete system that enables people to get to where they need to go regardless of where they are,” said Williams.
Work on Metro Express route 49 will include new bus stops, shelters, signs, and a charging station. Construction is expected to be completed by January 2018.
The route will connect with an already existing Metro Express route that travels to downtown Stockton in the north and Arch-Airport Road in the south. Williams said there are plans to add yet another Metro Express route from east to west in the near future, which would bring a total of five BRT routes by the end of 2018. The other two existing routes travel down the Pacific Avenue (Route 40) and Hammer Lane (Route 43) corridors, and both are well-used. San Joaquin RTD estimates that of the four million annual bus riders systemwide, half of them take BRT.
Not all routes will utilize the all-electric buses, but the agency has made its commitment to a renewable energy future by adding ten all-electric zero-emission buses this year to their existing fleet of two. They expect another five in 2018. They cost approximately $850,000 each, and San Joaquin RTD has been leveraging local, state, and federal grants to pay for them.
Williams said going electric would reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and bring “major improvements in lowering both air and noise pollution.”
The battery-powered buses have a two-hour charge load and take about ten minutes to completely recharge, according to Williams. San Joaquin RTD already has an EV charging unit at the transit center located downtown, and will install one at the planned transfer station along Route 49.
Advocates and elected officials say the electric bus and improved route are a welcome change from the bus line currently operating in the South Stockton neighborhood.
Yolanda Park, program manager for the Stockton-based Environmental Justice Project, said the county as a whole has some of the worst air in California and that “this may not solve the problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
San Joaquin County, in which Stockton is located, has consistently received a failing grade in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, and is currently ranked seventh for most pollution from short-term particulate matter pollution.
Recently Los Angeles’ Metro agency released a plan to have an all-electric fleet by 2030. Going electric is just one way to reduce air and noise pollution in the area, and Park said she is glad this kind of thinking is spreading.
“Other cities can see that if Stockton can do it, they can do it,” she said.
While Williams and Park cited air and noise pollution reduction as benefits from the introduction of electric buses, Stockton Councilmember Jesus Andrade is focused on the economic development potential that better transit brings to the community.
“I’m hoping it will bring a lot of activity to that corridor,” said Andrade, who represents a large portion of South Stockton. Andrade envisions a restoration of South Stockton, an area comprised of largely minority and low-income households, with businesses taking up the vacant storefronts and lots, and residents having easy access to the private sector jobs available north of the neighborhood—as well as a more efficient way to get were they need to go.
“I grew up around that route, and the nearest grocery store is a mile away from the residential area on the corridor. A lot of people walk to it—in this heat!” he said. “To me it’s a win-win.”
The city, in collaboration with the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition, has been applying for designation as a Promise Zone by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A Promise Zone designation comes with help from the federal government to boost economic activity and job growth, among other outcomes.
Andrade said the bus route will give the city an advantage in that competition.
Studies have shown that, if done right, Bus Rapid Transit can improve economic development along its route.
Park of the Environmental Justice Project said it’s hard to know the economic and air quality benefits of the new and improved route just yet. But, she added,“I think it’s a great example of investing inward in a disadvantage community. It’s telling the community here’s a route that will work for you—and it’s electric,” she said.