Location: Greensboro, NC
Fleet Type: Electric Buses

 

Narrative

Greensboro Transit Agency (GTA) is a free-standing department of the City of Greensboro municipal government. The agency provides both fixed route and paratransit services. The Fixed Route Ridership in FY2022 was 2,013,956 2 and 2,090,000 3 in FY2023. There are 52 coaches in the Fixed Route Service fleet, which includes 17 full-battery electric Proterra buses and 33 hybrid diesel buses.

Greensboro was an early adopter of electric buses and perhaps the first agency deploying fully electric coaches as part of a transit fleet in the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Thus, GTA did not have the information on coaches and charging infrastructure available to agencies now. The initial EV coaches were Proterras, which arrived in January 2019. GTA put four into service in a fleet that had been adding hybrid electric buses since 2011. The coaches are used only on fixed route service and replace retiring vehicles that have met or surpassed their useful life, which is 500,000 miles for GTA.

The initial Proterra contract provided a turnkey solution for vehicles and infrastructure. It included design, permitting, and installation of the charger. Overall, the deployment of chargers took approximately six months. It was disruptive when fast chargers were installed at the passenger depot, and during installation of overnight chargers at the bus maintenance facility. Proterra provided training for maintenance as part of the vehicle purchase and continues to do so after filing for bankruptcy in 2023, but it is elementary. Bus operators receive training on connecting to the overhead chargers and experiential learning for the difference in breaking with the electric vehicles.

The level of performance of electric coaches is very different from that of diesel coaches, and it would take twice as many vehicles to become an all-electric fleet. The City of Greensboro is looking at other fuel options, including the potential for hydrogen, to meet the City’s zero emissions goals outlined in the GoBORO combined zero emission fleet transition and long-range transit plan.

Funding to purchase electric buses and charging infrastructure came from a variety of sources:

  • Duke Energy, the electric utility in North Carolina, awarded an “EV Charging Infrastructure Project” grant of $450,000 to the Greensboro Department of Transportation to fund the first electric bus and EV charger.1 Duke Energy was involved in analyzing and reviewing the power supply.
  • GTA received $1.9 Million in FTA 2018 Low or No (Low-No) Program grant to purchase three battery-electric buses.
  • In 2021, GTA received $501,838 in VW Settlement Phase 1 funds to purchase the 17th all-electric bus in the fleet and support the construction of a fast charger.
  • In FY23, Greensboro was awarded a $3 million competitive grant to replace buses with new battery-electric buses, and it will be used to purchase three buses and chargers, increasing the fleet to 35 percent electric.3
  • Other vehicles were purchased with a mix of federal and local funds.

Outputs & Outcomes

Outputs:

Each fully electric bus provides 30,000 miles of service annually due to topography, environmental factors, and charging time compared to 60,000 miles/year from diesel. GTA has 17 65KW chargers for overnight charging at the bus maintenance facility and two 800KW fast chargers at the bus transit depot. The depot accommodates passengers for GTA, private bus agencies, and Amtrak. Vehicles typically travel 120 miles before charging, which is not a full day of service. The buses are charged before they reach a minimum 20% charge and can achieve a 40 – 70% charge in 15-20 minutes and return to service. Range anxiety is limited since vehicles return to the depot hourly. Electric buses are not used for bus routes that do not serve the depot because that is the only location with fast chargers.

Outcomes:

Between July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023, the buses drove a total of 344,620 miles, an average of 20,000 miles per vehicle. The reduction in gas during the same time was estimated to be more than 85,000 gallons.

GTA had fuel savings, but the agency did not have a reduction in maintenance costs, which are billed at an hourly rate.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

  • GTA experienced a 20% reduction of the estimated range from OEM’s listed range based on externalities in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
  • GTA recommends having one charger per bus for overnight charging to prevent changing vehicles overnight, as well as accommodate any broken or malfunctioning chargers. The latter is because GTA has experienced problems with internal components breaking.
  • Transit systems need to have the correct departments collaborating, which may not be part of the typical planning process. Coordination between route service planners and capital investment planning is necessary to select charging infrastructure placement, especially the potential for fast chargers.
  • Include bus operator feedback in selecting buses. A lack of comfort or operation configuration can reduce enthusiasm for accepting the new vehicles.
  • Consider future electricity demands – in design, construction and installation to ensure adequate power access for future technologies or expansion of charging infrastructure.

References

  1. Duke Energy News Center. Dec. 22, 2016. Greensboro’s transition to electric buses gets $450,000 boost from Duke Energy

https://news.duke-energy.com/releases/greensboro-s-transition-to-electric-buses-gets-450-000-boost-from-duke-energy

  1. Greensboro Transportation Department of Transportation 2021-2022 Annual Report. https://user-kcmpnye.cld.bz/Departmental-Annual-Reports/GDOT-Annual-Report-2021-2022
  2. Greensboro Transportation Department of Transportation 2022-2023 Annual Report https://user-kcmpnye.cld.bz/GDOT-Annual-Report-2022-2023

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Greensboro Fleet Story

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