- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - More than a year after the city of Columbia put its first electric bus on the road, COMO Connect continues to add the buses to its fleet, with three more hitting the streets so far this year.

Drew Brooks, city transit and parking manager, said the goal is to swap out the current diesel buses for a fleet made up of an even split of electric and compressed natural gas buses.

“At this point it’s very unlikely we would buy any more diesel vehicles,” he said.

Brooks said both electric and natural gas buses cost less to operate than diesel, with the electric bus being the least expensive. The city owns two compressed natural gas buses, the fuel for which is about 50 cents per gallon cheaper than diesel, Brooks said. Those buses are less expensive to run than diesel because they burn cleaner and therefore do not need as elaborate of a filtration system.

While electric buses are cheaper to operate than compressed natural gas, Brooks said the city would not opt for a fleet with just one fuel source in case issues occur with that fuel supply.

“You wouldn’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket,” he said.

The Columbia Daily Tribune (https://bit.ly/2qhGzos ) reports that the nine electric buses, manufactured by BYD Auto Co. Ltd, are fully electric, taking about three hours to charge each night. One charge, Brooks said, lasts about 13 hours, but the buses use up that electric charge more quickly when heating or air conditioning is running.

“On those extreme temperature days we have to watch the charge and make sure we’re going to make it through the whole day,” Brooks said.

He said COMO Connect has worked with its bus drivers to gauge how quickly that charge runs out when heating or cooling is being used. Also, when the driver allows the bus to slow down on its own before breaking, it helps recharge the bus battery.

“We have to drive them a little differently,” Brooks said.

The all-electric engine produces zero emissions, Brooks said. Shay Jasper, COMO Connect spokeswoman, said fuel costs average about $65 a day for the city’s diesel buses, and that cost varies depending on fuel costs at the time.

Brooks said maintenance is significantly less expensive on the electric buses compared to the diesel vehicles. Work that costs between $1,200 and $1,500 for diesel buses costs about $300 per bus for the electric buses, he said. Brooks said the cost is different because diesel buses have more engine components, including belts and fluids, which need to be switched out frequently.

COMO Connect estimates it saves about $4,500 per month per electric bus in fuel and maintenance costs. That savings covers most of the monthly cost the city pays to lease the buses. Under a 12-year lease-purchase arrangement the city has the option to purchase the buses outright at any time.

Jasper said the city is leasing a 40-foot bus it received in October 2015 for $4,750 a month, five more 40-foot buses that arrived in November for $4,988 per month and three 30-foot buses that were added this year for $4,391 each month. The city received a $1.7 million federal grant in 2016 to fund additional buses.

Brooks said COMO Connect so far has gotten positive feedback from bus riders on the shift to electric buses. Mainly, those riding the bus like how quiet electric buses are compared to the city’s other buses. One of the city’s electric buses is out of commission and the manufacturer is repairing it after a small fire last week. Brooks said last week that officials believe the fire started in the brakes and was not caused by the vehicle’s electric components.

The city is waiting for grant funds to process, which will allow COMO Connect to lease four more electric buses. Brooks said he expects it to be the first of the year before the four new buses are on the street.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, https://www.columbiatribune.com


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