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CDTA considers electric bus pilot program

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CDTA considers electric bus pilot program

The Capital District Transportation Authority is considering a pilot program of about five to ten battery-electric buses, CEO Carm Basile said at a board committee meeting on Thursday.

CDTA’s interest in electric buses was already known—it has secured (but not yet spent) a federal grant to cover about one vehicle and charging station, and its latest five-year capital plan signals an interest in buying more—but the open discussion during a planning and stakeholder relations committee meeting last week underscored the many complications and tradeoffs the public authority must consider as it moves away from fossil fuels.

One issue involves power and related capital upgrades. CDTA’s headquarters on Watervliet Ave. in Albany, likely the first place the authority would install depot chargers, might need a $1 to $3 million upgrade, one staffer said. Multiple chargers running simultaneously might use as much electricity as the whole building currently uses.

“The elephant,” said Christopher Desany, CDTA’s vice president of planning and infrastructure, is “everything you need from an infrastructure standpoint to juice those chargers in your actual facility.”

The range of electric buses is another concern. Though today’s models can purportedly travel 200 to 300 miles between charges—CDTA’s vehicles only travel about 160 to 180 miles per day—heating them can diminish that range significantly, director of maintenance Lance Zarcone told the committee. (An obvious but probably unpalatable workaround would be to install diesel-fired heaters.)

It is also unclear how exactly CDTA might fund the pilot program, let alone the eventual replacement of its entire fleet. The Federal Transit Administration’s “Low-No” program, state DEC-administered Volkswagen settlement proceeds, and the State and Municipal Facilities Program are potential options, but there seems to be no single, silver-bullet source.

“It’s very small pots,” Basile said, adding that “there are other pots that we think will become available.” CDTA will also likely need to commit internal funds to the effort, the CEO said.

There may be considerable upsides. If CDTA were to replace its largely diesel fleet with electric vehicles, customers and the neighborhoods served by routes might benefit from attendant reductions in noise and emissions, Zarcone said. The authority might also reduce its operating costs, saving in areas like fuel, engine oil, and labor.

Seventy transit agencies in the U.S. have battery-electric buses in operation, or at least have ordered or sought funding for them, Zarcone said, citing federally sponsored research. Fewer than 300 such buses are now in service. Hundreds more are on order.

In New York state, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City recently embarked on a three-year pilot with 10 electric vehicles, and Rochester’s transit agency is not far behind, Zarcone said.

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