Location: Huntsville, AL
Fleet Type: University Electric Student Transportation Buses

Narrative

Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) is an historic, student-friendly, and community-focused institution of higher learning. Reflecting on its heritage as an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and a traditional 1890 land-grant institution, AAMU functions as a teaching, research, and public service institution that also includes extension. Founded in 1875 by a former slave, Dr. William Hooper Councill, AAMU is a dynamic and progressive institution with a strong commitment to academic excellence. The serene, intimate campus is situated on “The Hill,” only a short distance from downtown Huntsville, the site of the school’s founding.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC) has worked with AAMU since 2007 when the University began producing biofuel (biodiesel) from waste vegetable oils through a partnership with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Over the years, ACFC has maintained consistent contact and provided information to the University on many occasions regarding available funding opportunities for alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles. The University, and specifically Marshall Chimwedzi, Transportation Director, has been very proactive in working with ACFC since 2018 researching the use of electric transit buses on campus and educating students, university staff, and consumers about electric vehicles. Marshall has participated in the North Alabama Drive Electric Alabama Chapter since 2021 helping facilitate, and participating in, educational EVents.

In 2017 the University’s first generation, fossil-fueled transit buses were beginning to reach the end of their useful life. This allowed the University to investigate using first-generation electric transit buses. Supported by key University stakeholders, the Transportation Director researched trends, mobility technological advances, and the environmental benefits of adding e-buses to their fleet.

The key internal stakeholders are the Department of Transportation, the Finance administration, the Board of Trustees, and the drivers, students, and maintenance personnel. Also, throughout the process of considering adding electric buses, the school has had the buy-in from the local community at large.

Since the University was ahead of the adoption curve for electric buses, some obstacles needed to be overcome. It was a “chicken and egg” scenario, which comes first, the buses or the charging infrastructure. With the opportunity made available by a Low or No Emission Program (LoNo) grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the University opted to apply and get an e-bus knowing that initially the charging infrastructure and maintenance plan was not in place. Proterra was named as the supplier, as allowed by the LoNo grant, which eliminated the solicitation and/or RFP process. 

As part of the acquisition process, students were asked to ride in a demo e-bus, and submit comments, and a group of selected students were taken to the Proterra bus manufacturing plant to visit and provide their input on the e-bus design.

When the first bus was received in 2019, initial charging was provided using a temporary 60kW portable charger fueled by a fossil fuel generator.

To date, the University has six e-buses in operation. Another three buses will be ordered in 2024 as result of successful Federal Transit Administration (FTA) applications and awards. A state-of-the-art charging facility has also been added to allow for simultaneous charging of eight buses.

In 2021 a solar farm was funded through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Construction of the solar farm began on December 4th, 2023, and will provide electricity for the bus charging station and related bus facilities when completed in 2024. The University’s goal is to achieve a 100% Zero Emissions Transit System in 2024.

Outputs & Outcomes

Outputs:

  • The University has applied for and received five Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants to purchase nine e-buses.
    • To date six of the nine e-buses applied for are in operation:
      • 2017 (1)
      • 2020 (2)
      • 2021(4)
      • 2022 (2)
  • Initial charging infrastructure was installed in 2021.
  • A new charging facility was constructed and put into operation in 2022.
  • A 1MWac Solar array and 500kW Battery Electric Storage System (BESS) grant was applied for and awarded in 2021. The charging array will be tentatively completed in 2024.

Outcomes:

  • Removal of fossil fuel buses that produce harmful emissions.
  • Reduction of noise pollution.
  • Reduction of fuel cost by using electricity instead of diesel fuel.
  • Less maintenance cost.
  • 2023 completed construction of bus maintenance shop (pictured below).

  • Drivers like and enjoy driving e-buses.
  • Riders/students like the quiet and smooth ride with no noxious fumes.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

  • Build the related infrastructure (charging station) to coincide with the arrival of electric buses.
  • Have trained tech in place and provide training for the operators/drivers.
  • Research and put into place a charging management program.
  • Utilize an adequate route simulation program with e-buses to better understand energy consumption.
  • Maintenance issues, including warranties and recalls, need to be carefully monitored.
  • It is better to have one manufacturer to work with on new emerging technologies.
  • A qualified bus technician needs to be selected and in place at the planning stage.

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Alabama A&M University Fleet Story

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