Charleston tri-county area closer to all-electric buses

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The greater Charleston area’s public transportation system is a step closer to being quieter and more efficient.

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority said Tuesday that it has received an $8.3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant that it will use to buy 13 to 15 new electric buses that will replace the older, less efficient diesel ones, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

“We’re going to try and stretch every dollar we can and maximize that benefit,” said Mike Seekings, a Charleston City Council member and CARTA chairman. “It takes us closer, obviously, but we still have a ways to go.”

The move means around 20 percent of CARTA’s 120 or so buses will be electric-powered as the transit authority shifts from using traditional fuel sources.

Each bus costs about $600,000 and is manufactured in Greenville by a company called Proterra.

In November, CARTA unveiled plans for six of the electric buses to go into service during the first quarter of 2020 after the organization voted last year to transition its entire fleet of diesel buses to zero-emission alternative sources in the coming years.

“It’s a testament to the staff at CARTA at how hard they are working and how committed they are to modernizing our fleet,” Seekings said.

Since the first electric buses have yet to go into the field, Seekings said it was difficult to estimate exactly how much money the transition would save in the long run.

“But the electric charge is much cheaper than a tank of gas, the buses get about 100 miles on a single charge, and the operating costs by fuel consumption is significantly cheaper,” he said. “We will spend a lot less on maintenance for the electric buses, and I don’t want to give a percentage, but our maintenance costs are going to be reduced dramatically.”

Seekings said the electric buses will be replacing ones that have over 1 million miles on them, resulting in “significant” cost savings.

CARTA will continue to reduce the footprint of its traditional fuel usage through the yearly budgeting process and every grant application the group can possibly pursue to replace the aging fleet, Seekings said.

“We have a mandate to move toward alternative forms of fuel and we will continue to do so,” he said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, in a news release announcing the grant, praised the efforts of cities and local governments around the country that are working to upgrade their fleet of public transportation buses.

The move to begin replacing CARTA’s fleet comes as the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments continues to receive updates on the Lowcountry Rapid Transit plan, a tangential effort to address the tri-county’s growing traffic woes.


Information from: The Post and Courier,