The Town of Chapel Hill is receiving three new electric buses to add to its fleet in an effort to pilot the technology and promote sustainability.
Brian Litchfield, transit director for the Town of Chapel Hill, says the three new buses are projected to arrive either at the end of October or in the first few weeks of November.
He said these buses are entirely powered by electricity, a shift from the diesel and hybrid buses that are currently operating in Chapel Hill Transit, and they each cost approximately $1 million.
“As with many things these days, supply chain and delivery issues have slowed their arrival,” Litchfield said.
Although their projected arrival date should be within the next couple of months, he said the buses will officially be implemented for public use between late November and January 2022, according to Litchfield. Before the buses are implemented, safety inspections, equipment outfitting and training of operators and supervisors will need to occur.
With the buses being entirely electrically powered, Litchfield said the Town is also investing in electric charging stations for them.
“That’s part of our pilot project," he said. "Will the buses be able to operate all day long or operate for a certain number of hours? That type of performance will help inform our future decisions about electric vehicles and battery sizes.”
However, the charging hubs are not without their functionality challenges, said Allie Thomas, an assistant professor for the department of city and regional planning at UNC.
"Some batteries require more time than others, and the infrastructure needed to support battery charging may need additional space,” Thomas said. “It all depends. Some cities have to rotate buses throughout the day because of the time it takes to charge their buses.”
Electric buses fall under the Town of Chapel Hill Climate Action and Response Plan. The Chapel Hill Town Council passed a resolution committing to create the plan in September 2019 with the goal to place the town on track to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The plan includes four main categories – one of them being transportation and land use.
Chapel Hill’s Mayor Pro Tem Michael Parker said the electric bus program was a key component of the plan to make Chapel Hill a greener community.
“The idea of electrifying our bus fleet, as well as our entire Town’s fleet, is embodied in our Climate Action Plan,” Parker said.
Out of the four different categories provided in the plan, the transportation sector produces the second-largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for 26 percent of all of Chapel Hill’s emissions. Not only does the transportation portion of the plan advocate for the electrification of the town’s fleet, but it also increases public ridership and creates “walkable, bikeable, transit-served neighborhoods."
Although feedback from the pilot plan for the buses has yet to be received, Litchfield said there are many advantages to electric buses that are already being recognized. Electric buses reduce noise pollution and use “clean” energy, as opposed to diesel and hybrid buses that have high tailpipe emissions.
“While diesel buses and hybrid buses have gotten better at that over the years — they’re certainly more efficient than they were five or ten years ago — electric buses have no tailpipe emissions,” Litchfield said.
Parker added that initiatives such as this plan will help stray energy companies away from using non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels.
“Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill Transit are committed to addressing climate change, and this is one important early step,” Parker said. “It’s going to take time to electrify the whole fleet, but I hope folks know we’re committed to getting there.”
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