Zion National Park’s fleet of shuttle buses, hamstrung by a lack of replacement parts, is going to be replaced with electric buses thanks to $33 million in federal funding.
The well-aged fleet has provided a great service the past two decades for the park and its visitors, navigating the tight and narrow two-lane road that runs up Zion Canyon to the final stop at the Temple of Sinawava, where the Virgin River flows out of a slot canyon. It’s taken countless private vehicles off the road, shuttled hikers through the canyon, and allowed visitors to sit back and relax while gazing at the towering sandstone cliffs.
Two years ago Zion Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh outlined the problems the park was having with the propane-powered shuttles. While the contractor that manages the fleet for the park has done an incredible job maintaining the buses so far, he said in December 2018, there’s only so much mechanics can do with the fleet.
“We’re going to start running into problems,” the superintendent predicted at the time. “For example, wheelchair lifts. We’ve discovered because one or two broke down that those lifts are no longer, that particular lift, is no longer manufacturerd. And there’s not replacement parts. So we have to find something else and retrofit.
“The engine on the propane buses is no longer manufactured, and hasn’t been for quite a while,” added Bradybaugh. “By law, the manufacturers have to produce replacement parts for a period of time. That perod is now coming to an end, so we’re scrambling around buying up all the replacement engine parts we can find. It’s just time. They’re well beyond their life cycle for the type of bus that we’re talking about. The life cycle is about 12 years. Obivously, we’re six or seven, eight years beyond that.”
Today, fortunately, work is beginning to bring the electric buses to the park, thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation funding. The fleet replacement project will couple funding through USDOT’s Nationally Significant Lands and Tribal Program with contributions from the National Park Service, Iron and Washington counties in Utah, and the Zion National Park Forever Project, the park’s official nonprofit partner.
The new fleet will include 26 battery-electric buses and 27 charging stations. Engineering and service connections have been completed for the first phase of electric charging station installation in 2021. Delivery of new battery electric buses will occur periodically over the next several years, a park release said.
“We are so thankful for the opportunity to begin replacement of our shuttle fleet,” said Bradybaugh. “The existing fleet has served us well for 21 years, but has started to deteriorate with age and use. The new equipment consists of quiet, zero-emission buses that will help to further improve the visitor experience and demonstrate National Park Service leadership in environmental sustainability.”
The Utah congressional delegation, state and local elected officials, and the Utah Clean Cities Coalition, among others, provided significant and steadfast support for this project and funding. The park’s leadership will continue to collaborate with them throughout this project.
The Zion Canyon Transportation System started operation in July 2000 with a fleet of 30 propane-powered low emission buses, operating on shuttle loops within the national park and the Town of Springdale. The existing shuttle fleet accommodated more than 6 million passenger NPS in 2019.