Metro Transit took a bold step Monday with plans to one day have all of its buses powered by electricity, joining other cities across the country making the move away from diesel fuel.
“It’s an aspirational goal, but we think this plan is set up to be fully successful,” Brian Funk, Metro Transit’s deputy chief operating officer for bus said at Monday’s Metropolitan Council Transportation Committee meeting.
About 60 people packed the committee meeting to applaud the council’s plan to go all-electric — provided operational details can be worked out, including where charging stations will be located, and how the buses will operate in a cold climate.
In particular, labor unions, environmental and transit advocacy groups supported the plan to buy more electric buses in the next four years, with the ultimate goal of phasing out diesel buses entirely.
The Coalition for Clean Transportation, a group of Minnesota-based environmental and social justice groups, said adding electric buses is “an important step to reduce pollution and climate change.” The group, along with the Twin Cities Transit Riders Union, canvassed transit riders for the past several months and found “improving health by reducing pollution was a critical concern.”
“Renewable energy and transit are critical pieces to transitioning Minnesota to a livable environment free from fossil fuel emissions, where everyone can travel without the burden of pollution safely and economically,” said Janiece Watts of Fresh Energy, in a statement.
Metro Transit has already purchased eight 60-foot articulated electric buses for C Line rapid bus service, which will link downtown Minneapolis with Brooklyn Center through the city’s north side. The C Line is expected to begin service next summer.
“We want to test it in our local environment so we can see how they operate,” said Matt Dake, director of bus maintenance for Metro Transit.
Between 2019 and 2022, Metro Transit could take delivery of 125 electric buses. Currently, the fleet numbers about 1,000 buses.
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.
Electric buses emit no tailpipe emissions, and have a range of about 200 miles before recharging is needed, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). But extreme cold and heat can reduce that range.
Electric buses can be up to eight times more efficient than buses operated with diesel fuel or compressed natural gas, APTA said. But they are more expensive — 60-foot electric buses cost about $1.2 million vs. $700,000 to $800,000 for diesel buses.
In July, Metro Transit struck a $12.5 million contract was reached with New Flyer of America Inc. to build the battery-powered buses and related charging equipment for the C Line. The vehicles will be made at New Flyer’s manufacturing plant in St. Cloud.
The upgrade comes at a time when local bus ridership declined 4 percent to nearly 36 million rides between the third quarter of this year and the same period of 2017. Local bus ridership comprises about 59 percent of all transit modes offered by Metro Transit.