Chapel Hill Transit is getting greener with the addition of new electric buses.
During a ceremony on April 8, CHT introduced 11 new electric buses to its fleet. Three of them are currently in operation, and the remaining eight are expected to arrive next year.
The first three electric buses arrived in January, but the ceremony wasn't held until all partners and stakeholders could attend.
Brian Litchfield, director of CHT, said these zero-emission vehicles will help the town reduce its carbon footprint.
“Not only does that have benefits to the communities we serve, but also to the residents and the folks that are driving buses and others as well,” he said.
Batteries on the buses last 10 to 12 hours, and each charge provides 120 to 130 miles. Measures are in place to ensure that if the battery of the bus gets too low, the driver is able to arrange a charge with the dispatch operator.
The first three buses were funded through a federal grant, the N.C. Department of Transportation, the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, UNC and UNC’s student-run Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, Litchfield said.
The remaining eight buses are funded through federal and state grants, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Volkswagen settlement fund.
The RESPC was able to invest $390,000 for the buses through student fees, UNC senior Ben Brown, co-chairperson of the committee, said.
“We get about $250,000 a year that adds up over time that we can spend on projects,” he said.
Brown said the electric bus purchase is the biggest project the committee has funded.
The county purchased the three electric buses in 2019, but due to the pandemic and supply chain issues, Litchfield said they were not delivered until this year.
Penny Rich, former Orange County commissioner, said she is a frequent bus rider. When she rode an electric bus on her commute, she said she couldn’t even tell the bus was on.
“It's just so amazingly quiet,” Rich said. “And you know, like the old buses, how they vibrate when the motor starts up, this doesn't do that at all because it doesn’t have a motor.”
N.C. House Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Caswell, Orange, said he believes North Carolina will be integral to the clean transportation movement within the next 20 to 30 years because of initiatives like these.
Along with Toyota's recent choice to build a new battery manufacturing plant in the state, Meyer also cited that a new electric vehicle plant was announced in Chatham County and Thomas Bus Company will build a manufacturing plant in High Point — all making a move toward greener transportation.
“The beginning of building an electrified bus fleet is a great day for public transit and Chapel Hill, and a great day for our climate in trying to reduce our greenhouse gas,” Meyer said.
Though there have been concerns over the environmental impact of the mining process of lithium-ion batteries, the environmental benefits of electric vehicles outweigh the impact of mining, Brown said. He added that, unlike traditional vehicles, electric vehicles do not expose individuals to diesel exhaust.
Litchfield said the buses are still in their pilot program and are being tested on several different routes to ensure that they run well in various distances and environments.
Meyer said he thinks it is impressive that a student-run group was able to put a significant amount of money toward addressing climate change.
"I love the fact that students went in and invested on one of those buses," he said. "I think that's great. Thank you all for taking care of our community."
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