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A New Class of Heavy-Duty Vehicle Goes Electric in Hawaii

Electric motor coaches are taking to the streets in Hawaii and California. Roberts Hawaii, a tour bus company in the Aloha State, has become the first electric fleet of its kind in the United States.

Double-decker electric motor coaches are charged at a new Proterra charging facility in California.
Submitted Photo/Proterra
Electric motor coaches are gaining ground, with the nation’s first fleet taking to streets in Hawaii.

Roberts Hawaii, a transportation provider and tour company, has acquired three new battery electric, 45-foot, 56-passenger tour buses taking visitors to some of the state’s most popular destinations like the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The company received support from state and federal funding opportunities to provide incentives in the form of grants and rebates. The move to transition to e-buses fits directly within Hawaii’s climate goals, said state officials.

“This is a big step. In 2045 we’ll take the last step,” said Stephen Walls, deputy state chief energy officer, referring to the state’s goals of powering the transportation sector with 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. “But this is a big step today in electrifying our transportation sector."

“And just like a good hike, the most important step isn’t the last step. It’s the next one,” he added, during a press conference July 20, noting the state will be going after more funding to further its electrification goals.

It’s not just Hawaii seeing the emergence of electric motor coaches — which are larger and generally more comfortable than a standard city transit bus. Proterra, the California-based electric bus maker, has partnered with ABC Companies, which manufactures electric motor coaches, to launch an electric bus charging facility in Newark, Calif. The campus is capable of charging up to 40 buses with its high-speed charging technology. The buses, themselves, are built with Proterra’s battery technology.

“Commercial transit, such as commuter shuttles, are a great application for EV technology, and the vehicles stationed in the Newark facility are supporting Silicon Valley tech companies that operate employee commuter programs,” said Shane Levy, director of marketing and communications at Proterra.

The electric motor coach seems to be taking off, now making up some 20 percent of ABC’s sales, said Levy.

The coaches can fully charge in about four hours with a 150-kilowatt charging port. They have a range of about 250 miles per charge, said officials. The Van Hool TDX25E, a double-decker bus, recently completed a cross-country road trip from California to Florida, using public charging stations.

The 3.5-acre charging campus, developed by Proterra, includes partners like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to power it with 1.4 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 280 homes.

Buses of all sizes are transitioning to electric power. A report by CALSTART released earlier this year totaled nearly 5,500 transit buses in operation or on order. While electric school buses are quickly coming online, funded in large part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Advancing battery technology is key to ensuring that electric medium- to heavy-duty commercial vehicles become a permanent replacement for diesel-powered vehicles,” said Levy. “Today, our battery technology is supporting both heavy-duty battery-electric commercial vehicles as well as fuel cell-electric vehicles operating in the Class 8 trucking market.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.