Massachusetts Leading the Way on Electric Vehicle Transit


WRTA

One of the six WRTA buses that comprise the largest fleet of EV buses in the Northeast.
Photo credit: CMRPC

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) is about to make Massachusetts a national leader in electric vehicle, or “EV”, transit. The WRTA has just purchased three additional electric buses, which will join the existing bus fleet of 46. This includes ten hybrid buses (diesel-electric) as well as three existing electric buses. With a grand total of 6 EV buses, the WRTA will operate the largest electric bus fleet in the Northeast.

According to Stephen O’Neil, Administrator at the WRTA, the motivation to implement an electric fleet of public transit buses began with the practical consideration of rising fuel costs. The promise of cost-effective electric technology and a desire to be less dependent on fossil-fuels inspired the WRTA to apply for a Federal Transit Authority Clean Fuels grant. With a grant of $4.5 million awarded in 2012, the WRTA purchased three electric buses and fast-charging equipment. The grant was the second largest awarded in 2012 for electric vehicles and equipment.

Electric vehicles are known for being quiet, clean, and efficient alternatives to traditional internal-combustion vehicles fueled by diesel or gasoline. Here are some anticipated benefits of EV technology:

  • EV buses emit 280,200 pounds less CO2 each year than a bus operating on diesel, and 316,000 pounds less CO2 each year than a bus operating on compressed natural gas (CNG).
  • EV buses are ultra-quiet at 60 decibels – about half the level of noise produced by a typical bus.
  • An EV battery will only need to be replaced every 7–8 years.
  • EV buses rely on fewer parts and equipment than what is needed to maintain diesel-powered motors; one vehicle is expected to save about $135,000 in maintenance costs alone over the lifetime of each bus.

The new EV buses are expected to save on the cost of diesel fuel without disruption to the transit schedule. A standard 18-ton EV bus will charge completely in ten minutes. Only five to six minutes are necessary to get the battery to a “sweet-spot” (between 20–80% of full charge). This level of charge is adequate for EV buses to run about 22–30 miles and still adhere to their schedule. Aside from some initial charging hiccups associated with bus alignment at charging stations, the electric fleet is ready for service.

The WRTA strategically selected optimal EV routes after a comprehensive analysis of local topography. In keeping with certain considerations, such as the lack of charging stations farther out in the suburbs, as well as the fact that travel on an incline uses up more battery, the EV fleet will operate on a relatively flat route within an hour of a charging station at all times.

Additionally, the WRTA is working to anticipate and prepare for any concerns related to the oncoming cold weather. The WRTA anticipates having accumulated enough data by spring to determine whether the EV fleet indeed will stand up against Massachusetts winter storms and temperatures as expected. Once the WRTA supplies the figures to underscore a truly efficient, cost-effective EV fleet, other state and regional transit authorities will hopefully hop aboard the EV bandwagon. Until then, the WRTA and Massachusetts zoom ahead of the pack as the Northeast’s EV-transit front-runner.

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