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Austin’s CapMetro Adds Two Electric Buses to Fleet

Capital Metro recently announced the addition of two electric buses, bringing the transit agency’s total to 12. To date, the electric buses only make up around 3 percent of the agency’s 424-bus fleet.

by Philip Jankowski, Austin American-Statesman / August 31, 2020
Austin, Texas Shutterstock/f11photo

(TNS) — Capital Metro unveiled the latest electric buses to join its fleet on Friday — two 60-foot bendy buses that will find themselves on the transit agency's busiest routes.

CapMetro recently purchased the two vehicles as part of a growing electric fleet, which is now comprised of 12 buses. Its acquisition marks a milestone in the agency's latest attempt to move away from diesel fuel buses.

The dozen buses make up a relatively small fraction of CapMetro's 424-bus fleet — about 3% — but Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen said their acquisition marks a significant milestone for the transit authority.

Electric buses "are of critical importance to reducing pollution in this time of climate change," Kitchen said.

Next year, CapMetro will not purchase any new electric buses. However, Chief Operating Officer Dottie Watkins said the agency's five-year capital investment plan calls for purchasing between 20 and 30 electric buses in 2022.

On top of that, Project Connect, the taxpayer-funded $7.1 billion mass transit plan that will go before Austin voters in November, includes plans to make CapMetro's entire fleet electric. The whole plan, which includes light rail lines, would be paid for by an 8.75-cent increase to Austin's property tax rates.

The electric buses come with a significant cost increase over their diesel counterparts. Each 40-foot electric bus cost the agency $915,698. Meanwhile, the cost of their diesel-powered counterpart in 2017 was $535,441, according to the transit authority. The same goes for the 60-foot articulated buses, with an electric bus costing $1,311,712 compared to $759,644 for a diesel bus.

CapMetro defrayed most of those costs through grants from the Federal Transit Agency and through state dispersal of a Volkswagen settlement program created after the car manufacturer was found to have cheated emissions tests.

"It's a pretty substantial upfront cost," Watkins said, "mainly because you are buying the batteries. When you look over the life of the bus, the expected-for price of electricity is less than price "of diesel fuel."

CapMetro also needed to create charging stations to run electric buses.

Charging stations will be important because the 190-mile range of the electric vehicles is less than those running on diesel fuel. Buses running during all hours of operations can notch up to 270 miles a day, Watkins said.

The most striking thing about the buses is their silence, Watkins said.

Gone is the behemoth diesel engine mounted to the rear of the bus. Also gone is the heat that those engines generate inside the cabin.

What remains is a nearly imperceptible whoosh of an engine with very few moving parts. Inside the bus, all passengers should be able to hear is the whir of the vehicle's air conditioner. Outside, the only sound emanating from the bus will be the hum of the large tires on pavement.

The vehicles' seats will come equipped with USB ports so passengers can charge their devices. Bus doors also will have buttons outside to push for entry, similar to those on the Red Line's commuter trains.

Watkins said it gives the bus an air of luxury.

"The quiet is what has consistently struck me the most," she said. "It feels smoother. ... It feels like a higher end experience."

©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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