Metro Transit demonstrates all-electric bus

Test runs planned as agency considers adding electric buses to fleet

Metro Transit is offering free rides on an all-electric bus during a demonstration this week. Find it on the 18 route Tuesday and Wednesday. Credit: Dylan Thomas

Three manufacturers are demonstrating a new generation of all-electric buses on Minneapolis streets, and transit users are invited to try them for free.

An electric bus made by St. Cloud-based New Flyer will be running on Metro Transit’s Route 18 between downtown and the 46th Street Station both today and tomorrow. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, Metro Transit is purchasing wind-energy credits from Xcel Energy to offset the power consumed by both the demonstration bus and light-rail trains.

In May, electric buses from two other manufacturers will be demonstrated on Minneapolis streets. But if and when they might find a permanent place in Metro Transit’s fleet is still an unanswered question.

“We’re very much exploring it,” Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said Tuesday morning just before the New Flyer bus went into service on Nicollet Mall.

Lamb joined representatives from the manufacturer and members of the media on a brief test run of the all-electric bus. Acceleration and deceleration were noticeable smooth — it felt more like a light-rail train than a city bus, several riders noted — and with no diesel engine idling, the bus was almost silent when stopped.

Hybrid vehicles powered by a mix of diesel and electricity make up approximately 15 percent of Metro Transit’s fleet of over 900 buses. They’re mostly used on urban routes, the agency reports.

Lamb said all-electric buses might be most suited to one of the new bus rapid transit, or BRT, routes the agency plans to add. That would allow the agency to place charging stations for the buses at either end of a BRT route, he said.

David Warren, director of sustainable transportation for New Flyer, said the all-electric buses can be configured to carry more or fewer lithium-ion batteries, and can run all day on shorter but more frequent “top-offs” or one longer charge — typically overnight — depending on how transit agencies plan to use them.

Lamb said Metro Transit evaluates additions to its fleet based on the typical 12-year lifecycle of a bus. All-electric vehicles cost more up front — as much as $750,000–$800,000, compared to about $670,000 for a hybrid — but they may ultimately cost the agency less in savings on diesel fuel and maintenance.

The lack of an internal combustion engine is one big difference. But Warren said the all-electric vehicles also require less maintenance on brakes because of the regenerative brakes that capture the energy used to slow the bus and transform it into electricity.

“That all factors into the lifecycle of a bus,” he said.

So does fuel consumption. A 12-year-old Metro Transit bus has consumed an estimated $300,000 worth of diesel fuel during its years in service, Lamb said.

Lamb said Metro Transit aims to determine whether it will add all-electric vehicles by the end of the year.

Two other bus manufacturers will demonstrate all-electric models in May.

May 12–13 Proterra’s new Catalyst electric bus will run on various routes in St. Paul, and May 19–20 an all-electric model from manufacturer BYD will run on several Minneapolis routes, including the Route 21 down Lake Street. Rides are free on both buses.

For more information on the buses and where to find them, go to metrotransit.org/electric.