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A 40-foot electric bus costs around $750,000, compared with about $435,000 for a diesel bus.
A 40-foot electric bus costs around $750,000, compared with about $435,000 for a diesel bus.

US Transit Firms Cautious About Electric Buses

US Transit Firms Cautious About Electric Buses

Communities across the United States are looking to replace their dirty diesel buses, ushering in what some analysts predict will be a boom in electric fleets.
But transit agencies doing the buying are moving cautiously, an analysis by Reuters shows. Out of more than 65,000 public buses plying US roads today, just 300 are electric. Among the challenges: EVs are expensive, have limited range and are unproven on a mass scale.
A typical 40-foot electric bus costs around $750,000, compared with about $435,000 for a diesel bus. Cheaper fuel and maintenance expenses can lower the overall costs over the 12-year life of the vehicles. But those costs can widely depend on utility rates, terrain and weather.
The technology is still a gamble for many cities at a time when bus ridership is falling nationwide and officials are trying to keep a lid on fares, says Chris Stoddart, an executive at Canadian bus maker New Flyer Industries Inc. A top supplier of conventional buses to the US market, the company has just a handful of pure battery electrics in service.
 “People worry about being an early adopter. Remember 20 years ago someone paid $20,000 for a plasma TV and then 10 years later it was $900 at Best Buy,” said Stoddart, senior vice president of engineering and customer service for New Flyer. “People just do not want a science project.”
Green-energy advocates are skeptical of such rosy predictions. CALSTART, a California-based nonprofit that promotes clean transportation, figures 50% to 60% of new buses will be zero emissions by 2030. Market research firm Navigant Research expects electric buses to make up 27% of new US bus sales by 2027.
Transit agencies have found EV performance lags in extreme conditions. In environmentally friendly San Francisco, officials have resisted electrics over concerns about the city’s famously steep hills.
Weather is also a major challenge. An electric bus tested last year near Phoenix wilted in the summer heat due to the strains of running the air conditioning.

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