Wichita, Kan., Is State’s First City to Use Electric Buses

Wichita is the first city in Kansas to deploy full-sized, zero-emission electric buses as part of its regular fleet, with four new buses that will seat 29 and have a larger standing room capacity of 55 passengers.

by Dion Lefler, The Wichita Eagle / December 13, 2019
Shutterstock/Ruslan Sitarchuk

(TNS) — When Wichita, Kan., Transit rolled out its first electric bus Thursday, the only sounds you could hear were recorded music and applause.

“It’s so quiet, I didn’t even hear it coming,” someone in the crowd of about 100 said as the bus more or less snuck silently out of concealment in a garage at the Wichita Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility.

The four new buses will seat 29 and have a standing-room capacity of 55. They’ll be used on regular bus routes across the city, said Michael Tann, city transit director.

Wichita is the first city in Kansas to deploy full-sized, zero-emission electric buses as part of its regular fleet, said Mayor Jeff Longwell.

He said they’ll be “kind to our budget and also kind to our planet.”

The new buses are expected to save the city $462,000 each over their lifespan, compared to the diesel buses that are now standard in the city’s transit fleet, Longwell said.

The new buses cost $530,000 each, plus a lease on the battery packs that run them, Tann said.

That’s more than a new diesel bus costs, but the savings come in operating costs. They’ll do 150 miles per charge, more than enough for a day’s usage, Tann said.

The city has cut a deal with Evergy to get discounted power to charge the buses during off-peak hours overnight.

Overall, the city will pay 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour for bus power, compared to the regular industrial rate of 8 to 9 cents, Jeff Martin, Evergy vice president of customer and community operations.

About half that power will be from wind and nuclear energy, which don’t produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The rest of the power will come from coal and natural gas generation, he said.

The new buses are made from composites that are lighter than steel, rust-proof and “impervious to salt” that’s used as ice melt on city streets in the winter, said Dale Hill, the founder of Proterra, the company that manufactured the buses. Motors are simpler and easier to repair than a diesel engine, he said.

Hill said his company’s buses have logged more than 11 million fleet miles in 43 states. He called the diesel-to-electric switch a “worldwide paradigm shift” in technology comparable to the personal computer and cell phone revolutions of the past few decades.

Wichita bought the buses using a $2 million federal grant and recently was awarded $14 million toward the future cost of a downtown park-and-ride facility.

The new facility, planned for the vicinity of Douglas and Sycamore, will allow residents to park and connect to transit to circulate around downtown, including the free Q Line that runs up and down Douglas.

It will also serve as parking for the new $75 million baseball park under construction at the former site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which will be the home field of the Triple-A Wichita Wind Surge.

The city is planning on replacing the iconic but high-maintenance street trolleys now used for the Q Line sometime next year. The buses unveiled Thursday are too large for that, officials said.

On hand to welcome the new buses was Mokhtee Ahmad, regional director of the Federal Transit Administration.

He said their quiet ride facilitates the use of personal electronic devices in a way diesel buses don’t.

While texting and driving a car is illegal and dangerous, “texting and driving on the bus is the way to go,” he said.

“If you have not ridden in an electric bus before, you’re in for a treat,” he said.

©2019 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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