Eight new buses recently ordered by the Metropolitan Council will be the agency's first powered entirely by electricity, a mode of transit seen as quieter, more environmentally sensitive and cost effective.
The 60-foot vehicles will be the among first articulated electric buses to be put into service in the nation. The articulated buses, which will be part of Metro Transit's C Line, feature two rigid portions for passengers linked by an accordian-like connector.
"As electric, articulated buses join other buses along the C Line bus rapid transit line, they will cut fuel costs and decrease emissions along the corridor, paving the way for other long-term zero-emission possibilities," said Brian Lamb, general manager of Metro Transit, in a statement.
The C Line, currently under construction, will link the Brooklyn Center Transit Center to downtown Minneapolis, mostly through the city's North Side, beginning in 2019. The rapid bus service, similar to the popular A Line, is expected to be 25 percent faster than the current Route 19 bus.
A $12.5 million contract was reached with New Flyer of America Inc. to build the battery-powered buses and related charging equipment. The vehicles will be made at New Flyer's manufacturing plant in St. Cloud.
Nationally, the type of fuel in public transit bus fleets has evolved dramatically in the past two decades, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a Washington, D.C.-based industry group. More than 95 percent of buses were diesel powered as recently as 1995, but that number has declined as more environmentally friendly natural gas and hybrid buses have been introduced into transit fleets, an APTA report notes.
By 2015, about half of buses were diesel powered, while APTA found that electric-diesel hybrid buses saw their market share increase from 1 percent in 2005 to more than 17 percent a decade later. A report by Navigant Research, an international research firm, predicts electric buses will make up 27 percent of new bus sales in the United States by 2027.
New Flyer of America President Wayne Joseph said, "As the Minneapolis-St. Paul community continues to expand, supporting its growth with zero-emission [bus rapid transit] improves transit mobility while eliminating emissions and creating sustainable solutions."
New Flyer says its battery-electric buses save up to $400,000 in energy and $125,000 in maintenance costs per bus over a 12-year life span. Over the same period, greenhouse gases are reduced up to 160 tons when compared with a regular diesel bus.
While transit agencies across the country have been slowly adding electric buses to their fleets, analysts predict sales of the vehicles to grow rapidly in coming years.
One reason for the sales surge is that the cost of batteries, motors and power electronics related to the buses is declining due to increasing volume, according to Navigant Research.
"These improvements are helping plug-in hybrid and battery electric buses become more viable for fleets, and sales are poised to grow across all geographic markets through 2027," a research report states.
Charging equipment for Metro Transit vehicles will be located in the central bus garage and in the field at the C Line's endpoints, said spokesman Howie Padilla.
Metro Transit plans to build 10 more rapid bus lines, including the C Line. The service mimics light rail because passengers pay before boarding, and buses generally arrive every 10 minutes. Ridership on the C Line is expected to grow to 9,000 rides a day by 2030.
The purchase of the New Flyer buses was helped by a $1.75 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.
Metro Transit introduced electric hybrid buses in 2002, and they now make up about 15 percent of its fleet. Hybrid buses are propelled partly by electric power stored in a large battery in the roof of the bus, Padilla said.