A Proterra 40-foot electric bus.

The new year will bring some big changes at Greater Bridgeport Transit (GBT):  the introduction of two new, all-electric buses to the fleet.

GBT current runs 57 buses, 35 of them diesel-powered and 22 of them hybrids.  The diesels get 3.2 mpg and the hybrids just 4.5 mpg, which means the busy transit agency must buy over a half-million gallons of diesel fuel a year.

Jim Cameron

It’s a very busy transit agency carrying over 5 million passengers a year (about 17,000 a day).  Fares have been steady since 2010:  $1.75 for 90 minutes on any route, $4 a day or $70 for a monthly pass.  And ten percent of their riders are students, many of whom wouldn’t be able to go to school if it weren’t for their bus passes.

Why electric buses?  “We want to reduce our use of fossil fuels and cut pollution,” says GBT General Manager Doug Holcomb. “It’s just the right thing to do.”  But finding the best electric bus hasn’t been easy.

The transit agency needed to do a lot of modeling, looking at the length of their routes, the passenger loads and recharging times.  While GBT’s average bus drives about 250 miles in its 16-hour workday, there was no electric bus which could reach that range in local conditions.

Finally, they settled on a new 40-foot bus built by Proterra.  To be assembled in South Carolina and made with 75% US built parts, the first two buses should arrive by this spring, with three more coming later in the year. But they won’t be cheap.

Each electric bus, kitted out the way GBT wants them, will cost $970,000.  That compares to $630,000 for a hybrid bus and $460,000 for a traditional diesel.  The good news is that 80% of the cost will be paid by a federal grant with the other 20% coming from the state.

Aside from being much quieter, these new electric buses will be an environmentalist’s delight.  Even factoring in the emissions from the additional utility generation of electricity to charge these buses, just two electric buses in the GBTA fleet will mean almost a half-million pounds less of CO2 in the environment.

The transit agency will also be buying less diesel fuel and expects to reduce its maintenance costs given the simplicity of the motors.  To handle the overnight charging the agency has had to make a significant upgrade in its Cross Street garage.  But that, too, is mostly being covered by federal funds.

What will riders see in the new electric buses?  Comfy seats (but without padding to make cleaning them easier), a security surveillance system, USB charging ports at every seat and the all the ADA bells and whistles.

Even non-riders will benefit from the move to electric buses as diesel fumes have been linked to asthma and any reduction in that pollution is a positive.

CT Transit is also looking at electric buses for their New Haven and Stamford systems.  They have an RFP on the street now and with any luck will start approving bids for 12 buses by March.

Fittingly, the federal funds for these new CTtransit buses come from Connecticut’s slice of the “Dieselgate” settlement with Volkswagen after the German carmaker was caught cheating on the emissions standards of its “clean diesel” cars.” The state reportedly received $55.7 million and planned to spend $7.5 million on upgrading public services fleets.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.

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  1. Just think how much fuel saved, and pollution reduced. If buses in the State of Connecticut, didn’t drive around aimlessly with no passengers on board.

  2. How many GBT buses are empty? How often? What is the average number of passengers on each bus/each route at different times of day?

    And just because the Federal government is paying 80% of the cost of a ridiculously expensive bus doesn’t mean it’s “free”. For those of us paying Federal taxes, it’s just coming out of another pocket.

  3. I understand the concern about fossil fuels, BUT:
    – What’s the whole life cycle cost of electric?
    – What hazardous materials are used in the batteries and can they be recycled?
    – What’s the total impact of the charging of those batteries?

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