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Dallas Plugs into Electric Buses

The seven new battery-electric powered buses will operate downtown and are expected to save the transit agency on fuel and maintenance costs.

If some of the buses making their way through downtown Dallas seem to be a little quieter and cleaner, that’s because they are.

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) agency has launched seven new battery-electric-powered, 35-foot buses to travel its 19-mile D-Link circulator through downtown. The electric buses are replacing the last of DART’s diesel fleet. Today, the vast majority of DART’s roughly 700 vehicles are powered by compressed natural gas.

“We wanted to learn more about electric buses. They are growing in popularity in the industry, but I’m not sure we — as an industry — know all we need to in order to make a complete transition,” said Morgan Lyons, vice president of external relations at DART.

The new electric buses were funded through a $7.6 million Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Low and No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program. In April, the FTA announced the availability of $84.45 million in funding for purchase or lease of low or no-emission vehicles, or their related equipment.

Electric buses are still pricier than their fossil-fuel counterparts, however. DART’s electric buses, built by the California bus company Proterra, carry a price-tag of about $970,000, roughly double the cost of a compressed natural gas-powered bus, according to DART officials. However, given the cheaper costs of operating and maintaining an electric bus, a number of transit agencies are rationalizing the added expense, particularly when they are being paid for via federal grant funds. Also, charging infrastructure keeps improving, making the buses easier and quicker to recharge, even while it is in service.

“The vehicles have a range of 30 miles and are charged during a scheduled route stop,” Lyons explained. “It takes about five minutes to fully charge the buses for the 19-mile route.”

The bus pulls under [the charger,] and docks to charge,” he added.

It’s not just Dallas that’s going electric. Last month the Chicago Transit Agency (CTA) announced a $32 million deal with Proterra to purchase 20 electric buses. The move will make CTA’s electric bus fleet one of the largest in the country.

Chicago currently has two electric buses in operation, which have saved CTA some $24,000 a year in fuel costs, along with $30,000 in maintenance costs, according to a CTA press release.

“CTA is at the forefront of pursuing new technologies, including electric buses, which have performed very well — exceeding expectations and providing reliable, comfortable transportation to our customers,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr., in a statement.

In May, the San Francisco Metro Transit Agency (SFMTA) announced plans to only purchase electric buses, starting in 2025, with the goal of having a fully electric fleet by 2035. San Francisco operates the largest fleet of electric “trolley buses” — buses tethered to an overhead electric line — in the country. And all of the system’s electric buses, cable cars, streetcars and light-rail trains are powered by emission-free hydro-electric power.

Electric buses can also be found in Albuquerque, N.M., Stockton, Calif., Greensboro, N.C., Salt Lake City and other cities. 

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.