Even in the form of diesel-powered buses, mass transit is a much more environmentally friendly way to get people around than individual cars. All- electric buses, however, take the eco-credentials of mass transit to the next level and from next week, commuters in the San Gabriel/Pamona area of Los Angeles County can do their bit for the environment by traveling on three Proterra EcoRide BE35 all-electric buses purchased by Foothill Transit.

Proterra unveiled its HFC35 composite body, hybrid-electric bus prototype back in 2008, which evolved to become a 35-foot (10m) bus capable of carrying 37 passengers that was described as the world’s first plug-in fuel cell hybrid transit bus. Now the company has produced the all-electric EcoRide BE-35, which is also 35 feet long, but has room for 68 passengers and is able to fast charge in under 10 minutes.

Public transportation company, Foothill Transit, has purchased three of the buses and two charging stations from Proterra. The buses have 72 kW-h lithium-ion battery packs that are just 50 percent larger than the 53 kW-h battery packs found in the Tesla Roadster and provide the buses with three hours of running time or a range of 30 miles (48km). They come in 550lb (249kg), 18 kW-h modular units supplied by Altairnano.

The buses will be deployed on Foothill Transit’s Line 291, which travels between La Verne and Pomona, and they will recharge about every 30 miles at the Pomona Transit Center at a drive-in docking station.

The buses will also soon be hitting the streets in San Antonio, but those will have 54 kW-h battery packs that will need to be charged more frequently. While the Foothill buses are likely to spend 10 minutes every hour charging and complete several laps of their route, the San Antonio buses may top up their charge on nearly every lap.

Foothill Transit is paying Proterra US$5.6 million for the three EcoRide BE-35 buses and two chargers but, if all goes well, hopes to expand its fleet to 12 buses. And they’re likely to attract other buyers. By 2012, 15 percent of the buses purchased by municipal agencies in California will have to be zero-emission vehicles.