GoTriangle goes green: Electric buses could be in NC's future

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GoTriangle is looking into purchasing Proterra’s low-emission buses if they receive a federal grant for electric vehicles. Photo courtesy of Proterra. 

Low-emission electric buses could be coming to North Carolina.

GoTriangle is applying for a regional grant that would allow for the company and its partners to receive funding for electric buses.

Chapel Hill Transit, GoTriangle, GoCary and GoRaleigh would receive funding for low-emission buses under the grant. The grant would not cover all the costs of the electric buses but would aid the funds the company already plans on using. 

While the buses would cost double the amount of a standard bus upfront, they would save $200,000 to $400,000 per vehicle over the vehicle's lifespan, which is around 12 years.

Jeff Mann, general manager for GoTriangle, said the buses would be quieter and would produce fewer emissions than the buses currently in use. 

“We would very much like to get started with electric vehicles as a region and more than just GoTriangle,” said Mann. 

The $980,000 buses include maintenance supplies such as charging stations. The seven buses that would be purchased would come from Proterra, a manufacturing company that produces low-emission vehicles. 

If GoTriangle is awarded the grant, Proterra is offering to contribute $175,000 to the costs of the buses as well.

GoTriangle's decision to apply for the low-emission buses comes from the increased range the Proterra buses provide, which had been a concern with electric buses in the past. 

Noreen McDonald, the chairperson of the UNC city and regional planning department, said in an email statement that the Federal Transit Administration estimates an electric bus costs 19 cents per mile — versus 84 cents per mile for a conventional bus.

"Put another way, for the same $1 in operational costs an electric bus can travel 4 times as far,” said McDonald. 

McDonald said electric buses will also provide health benefits. She said reductions in air pollution have been shown to reduce respiratory diseases like asthma.

Nikhil Kaza, a city and regional planning professor at UNC, cautions that electric buses have not yet been proven to be superior to diesel buses in respect to the environment. One study concluded electric buses were preferable to diesel buses in only eight states.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport received a similar grant in August 2017. The federal grant that RDU received will cover half the cost of four Proterra buses at $1.6 million. RDU predicts the four electric buses will prevent 16.9 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the environment. RDU’s buses will be available for use in 2019.

The regional grant for which GoTriangle is applying will announce its winners this September. If the company wins the grant, Proterra estimates that the first buses could be delivered by December 2018.

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