Battery-Powered Buses Enter the Mainstream

Battery-Powered Buses Enter the Mainstream

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Better lithium ion batteries have led to an explosion in availability of plug-in passenger cars. And now, thanks to relatively cheap electricity and the simplicity of the electric drivetrain, electric vehicles have even more potential for use in the extremely cost-sensitive public transportation arena—a concept that is only just taking root.

In particular, two projects funded mostly by grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)—better known as the stimulus package—are pioneering new ways that public transit systems both large and small can think about total cost to operate buses and their environmental impact in the burgeoning era of cheaper, large format, lithium ion batteries. Spanning from Pasadena to Pomona in an area east of Los Angeles, Foothill Transit is a large bus operator serving about 14 million passengers per year over a 900-square-kilometer area. On the other end of the spectrum is LINK Transit, based in rural Wenatchee, Wash., which conveys just one million passengers annually—but unlike the compact footprint of Foothill Transit, its lower passenger volume is spread out over an area about 10 times larger.

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