Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Graham, NC 27253
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Burlington’s plan for electric buses surges ahead toward public hearing

Burlington’s city council is seeking public input on some proposed vehicle purchases that could really charge up the motorfleet that serves the city’s Link Transit bus system.

The council has agreed to hold a public hearing on October 5 to solicit feedback on a fleet upgrade proposal that calls on the city to use a combination of state and federal grants to acquire two electric buses, five gas-powered buses, and three gas-powered “paratransit” vehicles to ferry the bus system’s handicapped passengers.

The council formally scheduled this hearing on Tuesday after John Andoh, the city’s interim transit manager, laid out the particulars of these purchases at a monthly work session on Monday.

During the work session, Andoh reminded the council that Link Transit’s current nine-vehicle fleet is rapidly nearing its life expectancy. He added that the city has several options for replacing these vehicles that would permit it to convert a portion of Link Transit’s fleet to electric power.

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Andoh encouraged the council to acquire a pair of electric buses with $1.2 million in federal funds that the bus system already has at its disposal. He also suggested that the city apply for additional state and federal funds to acquire another five gas-powered buses as well as three gas-powered paratransit vehicles.

In either case, Andoh urged the council to make the acquisition of the electric buses a key component of the fleet’s upgrade.

“Conversion to a partly electric fleet makes sense from a capacity standpoint because these 30-foot buses are larger,” he explained during the council’s work session. “We also agree that electric buses show good environmental benefits, and last longer as compared to gasoline buses,” he added. “However, we can afford to buy more gasoline buses now and more at one time.”

Andoh noted that electric buses tend to have “slightly lower” operational costs over the long haul, although he confessed that these savings are largely offset by their greater upfront expense. He added that, by the time an electric bus reaches its 12-year life expectancy, it has an average cost of $3,091 a year to operate – much less than what he would expect to spend on a gas-powered bus with a 7-year lifespan.

Andoh ultimately encouraged the council to use the $1.2 million already in the bus system’s kitty to pay for the two electric buses. He went on to propose that the city apply for certain state and federal grants to obtain the additional $1.2 million it needs for five gas-powered buses and another $369,000 for three gas-driven paratransit vehicles.

In the end, Andoh told the council that this fleet replacement strategy would enable Link Transit to mobilize an entirely new fleet of vehicles by 2023.

Councilman Jim Butler, who had previously received a primer from staff members about this proposal, insisted that Andoh and his colleagues had made a compelling case for the electric buses based on the need for higher capacity vehicles to serve the bus system’s two most popular routes. Butler added that he also believes the staff’s plan to pay for the vehicles won’t eat into the revenue that the business system will need to fund its operations.

“That means the model is sustainable long-term,” he added, “so, it doesn’t become a general fund drain.”

At its next regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the council scheduled a public hearing on this fleet replacement proposal to take place on October 5.

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