The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) recently took delivery of its sixth zero-emission, silent all-electric bus. Together with its sixteen diesel/electric hybrid buses, the WRTA now operates a 40% alternative fuel fleet, with the remaining thirty two buses in the fleet being diesel fueled.
The electric buses are manufactured by Greenville, South Carolina-based Proterra. Since 2010, Proterra has been manufacturing its rechargeable buses made of strong, light-weight composite materials. The buses have a 30-40 mile range on a full charge, but can be fully recharged mid-route in less than 10 minutes. The buses have zero emissions, since there is no internal combustion engine or tailpipe, and are approximately 500% more efficient than the typical diesel-fueled city bus, which gets maybe 4 miles per gallon. By contrast, the Proterra buses achieve an 18 mpg equivalency, based on the electricity required to recharge and operate.
WRTA Director Stephen O’Neil stated in a phone interview that each Proterra bus is saving the authority between $40-60,000 in diesel fuel costs alone. Ryan Popple, CEO of Proterra, elaborated by email, “Over 12 years, the life cycle of a bus, the operator will spend $600,000 on diesel, more than the original cost of the bus itself. It is crazy. Diesel buses made sense when fuel was $1 / gallon. At $4.50 / gallon you could start bankrupting transit agencies.”
Plus, there are additional savings from lower maintenance costs. “There are not a lot of moving parts,” said O’Neil. “You’re basically talking about an electric engine…so there’s no transmission fluid, oil, those type of things…generally speaking, there are lower maintenance costs compared to a strict diesel or a diesel hybrid.”
The WRTA paid $960,000 for the first 3 Proterra buses, but, according to O’Neil, paid a discounted price of $825,000 for the other 3 buses. There was another $790,000 cost for the single charging station, located at the WRTA Hub next to Union Square. The six buses and the charging station were financed by a combination of over seven million dollars in grants, mostly from the Federal Transit Administration Clear Fuels program, with some matching grants from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
O’Neil feels that, overall, the Proterra buses have been quite reliable, except for a minor problem last winter. “When we had that wet, heavy snow…it would congeal around the charging head and charging blade…so, it necessitated us to having to go out and clean the snow off. But that was the heavy wet snow. The light fluffy snow, no problem at all.” He says that Proterra is “working on a solution that will hopefully get installed before this winter.”
WRTA riders have generally embraced the new technology. O’Neil commented that the Proterra bus “runs quieter, it runs cleaner, it’s more efficient, and I think our riding public likes that.” But the blind riders and the bicyclists requested one minor change: the bus “runs so quietly” they “expressed a desire to have some type of bell put on it. We now have that on there.”
Proterra CEO Popple proudly states, “Our product and technology is better, on many levels. Quiet, powerful, comfortable, safe, lightweight, looks cool, saves money, helps the environment.” The WRTA decision to acquire Proterra buses puts the authority at the forefront of the national trend towards green transportation technology.