The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 20th

Chapel Hill Transit to purchase three electric buses

Tammy McNair, Chapel Hill Transit bus driver, drives the T route on Friday May 31, 2019.
Buy Photos Tammy McNair, Chapel Hill Transit bus driver, drives the T route on Friday May 31, 2019.

Chapel Hill Transit plans to add three electric buses to its 93 bus fleet to lower emissions and improve local air quality. 

The fleet has transitioned to greener practices in previous years, with 29 of the buses being diesel-electric hybrids and over half using emissions technology that scrub nitrogen oxides and particulates from exhaust. 

Moving to electric buses, however, is a large and expensive task.

The pilot project will cost $3 million and will largely be funded by the Federal Transit Administration and the three Chapel Hill Transit funding partners: the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and UNC. 

The UNC student-run Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee (RESPC) also provided $380,000, or roughly the difference in cost between a traditional diesel bus and an electric bus. 

“We think this is an important step in the direction of moving away from diesel buses and minimizing even more the use of fossil fuels,” Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield said. 

Despite the high upfront costs, Chapel Hill Transit said it will likely save in the long run because of reduced maintenance and fuel costs. 

Electric buses do not do away with fossil fuel emissions entirely since their power source, the electric grid, is partially fueled by fossil fuels. Still, the electric grid uses clean energy sources in addition to fossil fuels.

Adam Long, greenhouse gas specialist said one of the biggest benefits of electric buses is that they transfer emissions from non-point sources, like vehicles, that are dispersed around the city. 

“When you’re taking those emissions that are at ground level, when the bus drives by you, it’s letting out emissions at your breathing level,” Long said. 

Instead, emissions from electric buses are released at a power plant. 

“These power plants are usually further from populations, they have taller stacks so that the emissions are coming out at higher levels, which are traditionally less likely for you to personally inhale,” Long said. “And then it’s also easier to control these emissions because they’re at one power plant rather than at 1,000 buses.”

RESPC co-chair Olivia Corriere said the committee is excited to help fund the electric bus project because of its high visibility. 

“Electric vehicles are something that’s really easy for the public to conceptualize as something that’s sustainable,” Corriere said. 

During the pilot program, Chapel Hill Transit will collect data to determine what is needed to potentially expand the number of electric buses en route. 

The electric buses are expected to be running 12 to 18 months after the order is placed in September.

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