The new year will bring some big changes at Greater Bridgeport Transit: The introduction of two new, all-electric buses to the fleet.
GBT runs 57 buses, 35 of them diesel-powered and 22 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.
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 10 percent of 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,” GBT General Manager Doug Holcomb said. “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 its 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 that could reach that range in local conditions.
Finally, the agency settled on a new 40-foot bus built by Proterra. To be assembled in South Carolina and made with 75 percent U.S.-built parts, the first two buses should arrive by 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, compared to $630,000 for a hybrid bus and $460,000 for a traditional diesel. The good news is 80 percent of the cost will be paid by a federal grant with the other 20 percent 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 GBT fleet will mean almost a half-million pounds less of carbon dioxide 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 made 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.
CTtransit is also looking at electric buses for its New Haven and Stamford systems. It has a request for proposal 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.
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for more than 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group, sits on the Merritt Parkway Conservancy board and also serves on the Darien RTM and as program director for Darien TV79. The opinions expressed in this column, republished with permission of Hearst CT Media, are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.