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A new report from Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group highlights municipalities across the country that are making the switch to electric buses and reaping the benefits on dual fronts -- reducing emissions as well as operating expenses.
“Electric Buses in America: Lessons from Cities Pioneering Clean Transportation” features the experience of six early adopters of electric buses from Seneca, South Carolina to Seattle, Washington and illuminates the successes, challenges and lessons learned.
“The experiences of early adopters prove that electric buses are ready for prime-time,” stated Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “Electric buses are already delivering air quality, public health and financial benefits.”
The report notes the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) found that electric buses perform well in extreme weather conditions and have saved the transit authority more than $24,000 annually in fuel costs and $30,000 annually in maintenance costs. CTA further estimates that each electric bus will save nearly $55,000 a year in healthcare expenses as a result of less pollution and related adverse health impacts due to fewer diesel buses.
Here in Arizona, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (based in Flagstaff) and Sun Tran (based in Tucson) have been laying the groundwork for electric buses in their fleets.
Erika Mazza, CEO and General Manager of Mountain Line, said their decision to move to explore electric bus technology was both environmental and economic. “Mountain Line received grant funding to develop a Zero Emissions Bus Transition Plan, which will assess zero emissions bus technologies specifically in the context of Flagstaff’s location and climate. Flagstaff voters overwhelmingly approved funding for hybrid-electric buses more than a decade ago, and pursuing this emerging fleet technology will keep with the spirit of that funding, while moving us into the future.”
According to Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group’s report, transportation authorities need to account for local conditions -- including geography and climate -- to ensure that the buses can perform as needed.
Steve Spade, General Manager of Sun Tran said, “We’re excited to start testing the applicability of electric buses in Tucson.” Electric battery performance is impacted by high and low temperatures, so Sun Tran will pilot-test four to five electric buses to see how they perform in Tucson’s hot summer climate. Sun Tran will acquire one electric bus through a one-year lease, and three to four others through an FTA grant.”
The report recommends that municipalities, transit agencies and school districts transitioning to electric buses learn from those who came before them. The report specifies that transit systems need to work with local utilities and policy makers on rate structures to prevent demand charges or other fees from undercutting the financial benefits of electric buses. In addition, agencies should ensure that contracts with bus manufacturers have warranties in the event the vehicles delivered do not perform as promised. And after a successful pilot run, transit agencies and schools should invest in as large a fleet as possible to benefit from economies of scale.
“Every new technology goes through growing pains and electric buses are no different,” said James Horrox, policy analyst with Frontier Group and lead author of the report. “But the early experiences of cities that have adopted electric buses show that the hurdles can be overcome -- and that the payoff in cleaner air, better health and monetary savings can be massive.”
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