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More electric buses are coming to the Triangle

GoTriangle expects to buy two electric buses like this one from Proterra, a California company with a manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C.
GoTriangle expects to buy two electric buses like this one from Proterra, a California company with a manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C.

GoTriangle and Chapel Hill Transit have each received federal grants to help buy their first electric buses.

The transit agencies plan to each add two electric buses to their fleets sometime in 2020. The buses are more expensive to buy, particularly when the charging stations and other equipment are included, but are cheaper to operate than diesel buses and produce no tailpipe emissions.

The Federal Transit Administration last week awarded $943,000 to GoTriangle and $1.38 million to Chapel Hill Transit. Both agencies plan to use the money to order 40-foot buses that will take 18 to 24 months to build and deliver.

“Buses are made to order,” said Brian Litchfield, director of Chapel Hill Transit. “Unlike cars, you can’t just go down to the local dealership and say ‘Hey, this is what I want.’ ”

GoTriangle expects to order its buses from Proterra, a California company that builds electric buses in Greenville, S.C., at a cost of as much as $980,000 per bus, said spokesman Mike Charbonneau. That’s more than twice the cost of a traditional diesel bus, Charbonneau said. But Proterra says its electric buses should last 18 years, compared to 12 for a diesel, and GoTriangle expects each electric bus to cost $250,000 to $400,000 less to operate over its lifespan.

The federal grant essentially makes up the difference in costs for two electric buses compared to diesel, Charbonneau said. GoTriangle has 67 full-size diesel buses; two will be retired when the electrics arrive.

Chapel Hill Transit also plans to buy two buses, but doesn’t know yet which company will build them, Litchfield said. The agency has 93 diesel buses and will likely retire two when it receives the electric ones.

These will not be the first electric buses in the Triangle. Raleigh-Durham International Airport has ordered four Proterra buses, with the help of a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, and expects those will be shuttling passengers between terminals and remote parking lots starting next spring.

Last year, GoTriangle and Chapel Hill Transit teamed up with GoRaleigh and GoCary to apply for a $3.27 million federal grant to buy seven electric buses. The agencies did not win the grant.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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