NC: Wanting to have an all-electric fleet, GTA aims to buy 6 more buses

Feb. 28, 2019
Thanks to a little extra initiative by city transportation planners, the Greensboro Transit Authority has another $1.95 million to help add as many as six, all-electric buses to its growing fleet.

Feb. 28--GREENSBORO -- Thanks to a little extra initiative by city transportation planners, the Greensboro Transit Authority has another $1.95 million to help add as many as six, all-electric buses to its growing fleet.

The Greensboro Metropolitan Planning Organization voted unanimously at its monthly meeting Wednesday to accept a clean-air grant from federal authorities and the state Department of Transportation to buy more battery-powered buses.

Greensboro became the first community in North Carolina last month to put battery-powered, zero-emission buses in regular, daily route service. GTA aims to transition to a fully electric fleet as its diesel and hybrid buses age out.

The city originally planned to buy just three battery-powered buses next year using a "no or low emissions" grant of $1.9 million that it had won from the Federal Transit Administration, according to city transportation planning manager Tyler Meyer.

But Meyer said he learned more recently that the North Carolina Department of Transportation also had federal highway money available through a "congestion mitigation" program for projects to improve air quality -- which was in danger of being phased out with too few takers.

So "we just asked" whether expanding battery-powered mass transitmight qualify and got approval, Meyer said.

"Thank you for asking the question," said City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter, who chairs the local MPO. "The electric buses are amazing, absolutely amazing."

The MPO supervises transportation planning and related issues for Greensboro and much of Guilford County outside High Point's metropolitan jurisdiction. Made up of elected county, city and town officials, the Greensboro MPO screens projects ranging from highway construction to transit purchases.

GTA currently has three, all-electric buses making the rounds. Transitadministrators expect to have a total of 10 in operation by the end of this calendar year, Meyer said.

By the end of next year, GTA should have either 15 or 16 buses with the help of the two, recent grants that together total almost $4 million, he said.

Uncertainty about the number of battery-powered buses stems from the fact that some of the grant money can be used to buy either buses or the charging stations needed to fill their batteries, Meyer said.

Ideally, GTA would be able to buy six buses and sufficient charging equipment, but the math also could work out so there's only enough for five of the vehicles, Meyer said.

The two federal grants require a "local match," meaning Greensboro taxpayers must provide roughly $670,000 as their share of the deal. Voters approved $4.5 million in a 2016 bond referendum for just that use.

The all-electric buses each cost about $300,000 more to purchase than their diesel counterparts. But they require so much less maintenance that city officials believe they can absorb the higher purchase price and still save several hundred thousand dollars per bus in lifetime costs.

In other action Wednesday, the MPO voted unanimously to expedite the planning process to widen 4.5 miles of West Wendover Avenue to six lanes and add sidewalks.

The widening from West Wendover's current four-lane format -- without sidewalks -- is envisioned between Guilford College Road in western Greensboro and Eastchester Drive in northern High Point.

The project was one of seven that the board approved unanimously for initial planning this year if state officials can find room in their budget. State DOT could then move toward construction more quickly as part of the 2020-29 statewide transportation plan now in development.

Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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