The electric bus question

The electric bus question

The electric bus “revolution” isn’t going so hot at some places around the country. And the poster child for this failure can be seen in Greater Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

As WHYY Radio has been reporting, SEPTA has placed a “pause” on its conversion to electric buses because, well, they just don’t work very well.

As the station reported last month, “what was meant to be the future of SEPTA’s fleet is closer to extinction than evolution.”

From the report:

“It’s been nearly a year and a half since a passenger set foot inside one of SEPTA’s (electric) buses, which cost nearly a million dollars apiece when they rolled out in 2019. Most are now gathering dust in a South Philly bus depot, riven by cracked chassis and other defects.

“The diesel and hybrid buses that SEPTA planned to replace with the all-electric fleet remain in service, with no timeline for the e-buses to return,” the radio station says.

The culprit is believed to be heavy battery packs.

But that’s only one facet of the problem.

Ari Ofsevit, a senior associate of the Institute for Transit and Development Policy in Boston, told WHYY that electric bus technology remains, at best, years away from reliability.

The battery electric buses in his city, too, failed to live up to performance expectations, “suffering from limited range and long charging times,” the station reports.

“No one has done a large-scale fleet conversion,” Ofsevit said. “There’s a lot of promise. But there isn’t a good track record.”

Similar electric buses also have been taken out of service in Duluth, Minn. (hills and heaters drained batteries too quickly), Indianapolis (poor range per charge) and in Albuquerque, N.M. (for the same reason), the station reports.

Pittsburgh has been testing battery electric buses on some routes. And they are to be the marquee bus on the coming Bus Rapid Transit System between downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland. How those tests have been going appears to have gone unreported.

But the problems with battery electric buses around the country are allowing one lobbying group to drive natural-gas powered buses right through all those chinks in the electric buses’ armor.

You’ll recall that natural-gas buses were the darlings of environmentalists — until the eco-wackos no longer would tolerate fossil fuels to any degree.

That said, Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica) last year made a convincing case for such buses in its “Maximize Clean Transit Investment: Natural Gas Outperforms Electric” report.

Among the issues it found – battery electric buses are “too expensive, lack … operational savings” and lead to the deployment of a “larger number of buses to do the same work as other technologies.”

But it wasn’t only this natural-gas lobbying group that found critical failure for electric buses. A study of one fleet by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found natural gas buses had an average cost to operate of 60 cents per mile while two different types of electric buses evaluated had an average cost of 94 cents and $1.01 per mile.

Additionally, electric buses (over the life of the study’s evaluation) were found to be available 80 and 76 percent of the time, while the natural gas buses were available 94 percent of the time. That exceeded the industry target of 85 percent.

Whether electric buses are the wave of the future remains to be seen. But growing data suggest they now are not ready for prime time.

And one has to wonder, given how much public money has been “invested” in the battery electric bus cause, whether the government will ever admit to their failures –or continue to bow to the ecocratic mob.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).