Battery-powered buses to get test run on new airport shuttle route
Move over smelly diesel. Big buses that can maneuver city streets using only electric power are coming to town.
The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority board on Wednesday voted to lease and perhaps buy two of the 40-foot buses. They run on quieter battery power at low speeds and switch to diesel on the highway.
The hybrid vehicles will get a trial run beginning in late October on a new, free airport shuttle route.
“We want to look at diesel alternatives,” said CARTA board Chairman Elliott Summey.
The electric-and-diesel engines reduce exhaust emissions and use less fuel, officials said.
If a trial run for the hybrid buses is successful, CARTA will purchase two new ones for a total of $1.2 million, and it may move at a later date to expand its fleet of the vehicles, Summey said.
“I would push us to move in that direction,” Summey said.
The CARTA board unanimously approved leasing two of the 40-foot buses for up to six months for $20,000 per month. During that time, CARTA will evaluate the vehicles based on how riders like them, fuel savings and maintenance costs, Summey said.
The board also unanimously approved buying two new buses next year if the leased ones perform well. The full cost of purchase and operations would be $2.3 million, including fuel, drivers and maintenance. Federal funds of $1.2 million and $300,000 each from Charleston County and the Charleston Aviation Authority are being made available. Another $300,000 would be provided by an as-yet unidentified partner in the project. CARTA would contribute $133,000.
Canadian company New Flyer, which makes the hybrid buses, says they create up to 90 percent less air pollution. Diesel fuel savings over the life of the bus have been estimated at $65,000, but the purchase price of a hybrid bus is $200,000 more than a new diesel bus.
The airport shuttle will run every day from 5 a.m. to midnight and make 17 stops, most of them at nearby hotels. Other destinations on the new route including Boeing, North Charleston Coliseum, Tanger outlets and the S.C. Research Authority.
The board approved the plan for the new hybrid buses without comment following an executive session called to discuss contractual matters.
CARTA wants to continue to think outside the box by looking at all-electric and compressed natural gas-powered buses as possible additions to its fleet, Summey said. “We’d all like to see fully electric buses, buses made in South Carolina,” he said.
Electric buses are manufactured by Proterra in Greenville.
The push for alternative-fuel buses comes at a time when CARTA is working to develop a long-range plan to replace most of its aging fleet of nearly 100 vehicles. Some 80 new buses are needed at an estimated cost of $40 million, according to the agency’s new five-year strategic plan.
Although 90 percent of new-vehicle costs are eligible for federal and state funding, $4 million in local matching funds will be needed, the five-year-plan report said.