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Electric buses tend to be quiet, more lightweight and environmentally-friendly than diesel-fueled or even hybrid buses. Fuel savings and quick charging times are other benefits for transit operations. Additionally, public transit is an ideal application for the electric bus, because of predictable routes.
One transit system is about to convert their diesel-powered fleet to all-electric with the help of Greenville, S.C.-based bus manufacturer Proterra, with the aim of going greener and reaping these benefits.
The City of Seneca (S.C.) is switching its three-vehicle fleet to four 35-foot EcoRide BE35 all-electric buses, to be operated by Clemson Area Transit (Catbus). In November 2011, the city secured funds to buy the vehicles and install two chargers. The vehicles are expected to arrive this summer. Proterra started production on the first bus in November 2012, according to Ian Shackleton, VP, sales and marketing, Proterra.
The City received $1.8 million from the South Carolina Department of Transportation for two of the buses and a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for $4 million for the other two buses and charging infrastructure.
The buses will run on a fare-free express route from Seneca to Clemson, S.C.’s Clemson University.
Proterra’s vision is to transform public transit as we see it today, Dave Bennett, CEO, Proterra, says. The manufacturer focuses on clean energy solutions that have an environmental impact with zero emissions; make buses lighter and perform better and safer; and deliver significant value in operating costs and energy savings.
The manufacturer enables 10 minute on-route charging, faster than a mobile phone, according to Bennett.
“Proterra’s solution is very focused around what operators need, which is a quick recharge time and an ability to run 24/7,” he says.
Range varies, though, because in some operations, buses need to run 20 hours to 24 hours a day.
“We’ve worked [with] the infrastructure charging system to make it easy, provide a turnkey solution vehicle, project manage it, install it, and work with city utility people and the agency,” Bennett explains. “It’s new to them. They are used to [installing] a CNG or diesel station, and now, they’re putting in a connection to an electric grid.”
Proterra increased safety features for the EcoRide BE35 battery system, designing it to be fireproof, and placed the batteries down low between the wheels for vehicle stability. The durable vehicle bodies are all-composites, made of carbon and other fibers.
“We are excited to have a great set of customers and working on the deployment of more vehicles in the industry,” Bennett adds. “It takes a while for the early adopters to work through the startup issues you always have. Proterra’s made phenomenal progress in the last year-and-a-half, focusing on reliability and affordability.”
Seneca will be the sixth agency to use the buses. Other Proterra all-electric vehicles in operation, or going into operation at other transit agencies, include Calif.’s Foothill Transit and Stockton Transit; Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, Nevada; San Antonio, Texas-based VIA Metropolitan Transit; Worchester Mass.’s Worchester Regional Transit Authority; and Tallahassee, Fla.’s StarMetro.
“A lot of other customers are trying [a few] and seeing if electric meets their requirements,” Shackleton says. “The City of Seneca and Catbus jumped in with both feet and gave us a huge vote of confidence. Our other customers are out there working with us; it’s just that [Seneca and Catbus are] small transit operations, but they’re going in 100%.”
Proterra is continually developing the technology to get more range and efficiency out of the vehicle; drive down the cost of purchase and ownership; and get the electric bus to be the number one choice for transit agencies, Bennett adds.