Electric buses: Sneak peek at cleaner fleet in R.I.

Electric buses: Sneak peek at cleaner fleet in R.I.

PROVIDENCE — The three new additions to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s fleet are sleek and quiet and produce none of the tailpipe emissions of a typical diesel bus.

But there’s something else that bus operator Terry Hollis likes about driving the new electric vehicles.

“It’s a lot smoother,” said Hollis, who’s worked for RIPTA for 30 years.

The agency unveiled the new buses on Monday at an event with Gov. Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Rhode Island’s congressional delegation. They and other state officials got an up-close look at the buses during a 15-minute ride from RIPTA’s Elmwood Avenue offices and back again.

“This is exciting,” Raimondo said during the trip. “We are committed to meeting the challenges of climate change. We’re doing an awful lot with solar and wind, but transportation matters. We have to continue to get serious about limiting emissions.”

The buses are being leased using some of the $14.4 million in settlement funds that Rhode Island is receiving as a result of the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal. As part of the $14.7-billion agreement that the German car giant struck with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after being caught cheating on emissions-standards tests, the company is setting aside $2.7 billion for states and territories to invest in vehicles that reduce emissions.

Under Rhode Island’s 10-year plan for the money, about $1.4 million will go towards the installation of up to 30 fast-charging stations for electric cars on the Route 95 corridor and $2.2 million will cover administrative costs. But the bulk of the money — $10.8 million — will be used by RIPTA to gradually replace a large part of its fleet of diesel buses.

 

Starting in 2021, the agency will begin to buy 16 to 20 electric buses, and when combined with existing hybrid buses in the fleet, the investment will mean that just over a third of the RIPTA fleet will be low- or zero-emissions vehicles. Because electric buses’ batteries are charged with power from fossil-fuel-burning plants, they are responsible for some emissions.

The agency decided to start leasing the three buses from manufacturer Proterra to prepare for the coming purchases and get to know the vehicles. Eric McCarthy, vice president of government relations for the Burlingame, California-based company, said that no other state has made use of the Volkswagen settlement money as fast as Rhode Island.

The buses will be used on three routes in Providence — Cranston Street, Prairie Avenue and Elmwood Avenue — where asthma rates are high and ridership is, too. They are aimed at improving air quality by reducing some of the emissions that cause smog and are the driving force behind climate change.

As part of the investment, RIPTA installed a charging station at its headquarters. The buses will be charged overnight for three to six hours at a time and will have a range of between 150 and 250 miles per charge.

The lightweight outer bodies of the buses were built by TPI Composites, the Warren company that is known for fabricating blades for wind turbines. The bodies were shipped to Proterra’s factory in Los Angeles, where they were used in the assembly of the finished buses.

More than 200 Proterra buses are on the road around the nation in places such as Florida, Delaware and California, McCarthy said. They cost on average about $700,000 to $750,000.

It will take three to six months to test the buses before they’re rolled out for full use by the public. One of the key questions relates to how far they’ll be able to go on a single battery charge. Roadway and weather conditions will be factors, as will weight and braking, said Amy Pettine, general manager for strategic advancement at RIPTA.

“We’re approaching this as a research project,” she said. “We want to make sure we have the right framework as we embark on this journey.”

— akuffner@providencejournal.com / (401) 277-7457

 

Published at Tue, 23 Oct 2018 01:59:03 +0000