People Mover to test new electric bus

Published: Jan. 11, 2018 at 3:20 PM AKST
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Next Tuesday, the Municipality of Anchorage’s (MOA) Public Transportation Department (PTD) will be rolling out its new 40‐foot Proterra Catalyst® E2 electric/battery powered bus. According to municipality officials, this new vehicle is part of a 4-month trial period that will test how the bus performs in winter weather, how cold temperatures impact the battery life, and whether it's feasible to pursue an electric bus fleet in the future.

PTD partnered with MOA’s Solid Waste Services (SWS) to lease the bus. SWS will also be monitoring its performance to help establish the feasibility of electric garbage trucks. Because of the lease agreement between MOA and SWS, no city tax dollars are paying for this test run.

"For us here in Anchorage, this is an exciting development," said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "We're going to see if this concept proves out. If it works, it means we can move people faster and cheaper than we have in the past."

The non-diesel transport unit was made in the U.S. at a manufacturing plant in Greenville, South Carolina, by

– a company that is currently based out of Burlingame, California.

Mac Burns, regional sales director of Proterra Northwest, states that the battery tests ran in other cities, for models like the kind that will be used in Anchorage, have shown that they can run for nearly six hours and as much as 180 miles, on a single charge. However, many of the cities that Proterra manufactures transport units for don't have the same cold climate as Anchorage. Burns says that is why this will be a great trail for buses, in order to see how they perform in cold weather conditions.

"What this vehicle is – a sub fleet of leased vehicles that is expected to work in a lot of environments, and it'll create a really good baseline for Anchorage," said Burns. "For if they move forward with electric buses, how will we have to equip it for colder weather? Do we need auxiliary heating? Do we need bigger batteries? But these are all options, so it's a great baseline for us."

Each 40‐foot Proterra Catalyst® E2 electric/battery powered bus costs around $750,000, compared to $550,000 for a diesel powered bus. However, Mayor Berkowitz hopes this 4-month evaluation could prove, or disprove, that electric/battery powered buses costs less to run, because of the fluctuating fuel costs versus more stable cost of electricity.

"There's a good argument to be made that because there are fewer moving parts in an electric vehicle, there are fewer parts to break and less maintenance is required," said Mayor Berkowitz. "And that's one of the things that we hope to discover."

A garage door rolls up, and the bus rolls out onto Anchorage streets for its first ever run on city roads Thursday. The driver seems to be doing fine with the new vehicle, and the ride feels no different than any other bus riding experience. However, it is a lot quieter than the diesel/gas powered transportation units.

Abul Hassan, director for Anchorage's Public Transportation Department, says if the city were to go through and order electric buses to replace portions of the current fleet in the next two years, most of the costs for those transactions would come from the federal government – not local.

"Because we are federally funded, 80 percent to 90 percent of our capital invested is federally funded. So if we bought a million dollar bus, hypothetically $900,000 of that would come from the FDA [and] the local investment is $100,000, which I would say is an immensely cost conscious way of being able to do an investment," said Hassan. "You can't beat those odds."

The bus will begin serving routes for the general public starting on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, for a 4-month trial period.