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Pandemic creates challenges for electric bus rollout

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 8:28 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Public transit in Vermont has taken a hit in ridership during the pandemic, making it tough for Green Mountain Transit to unveil their newest electric buses.

“We took delivery of these buses right before the pandemic kind of took full swing,” said Jon Moore, the general manager of Green Mountain Transit.

Moore says riders are slowly getting back on board.

“When they’ve been in service, they have been great. It’s a great passenger experience, the range has been adequate,” he said.

Their biggest issue with going electric is reliability. COVID-19 meant maintenance techs couldn’t get trained and repairs didn’t happen.

“We have experienced some general reliability problems with them which has limited their time in service,” said Moore.

“The industry is learning and evolving. So, it’s not unusual to think you are going to have some instances like this as things are getting on the road,” said Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur, the director of clean transportation for Vermont Energy Investment Corp.

Wallace-Brodeur says the state sees electric buses as a crucial step to achieve climate goals.

“Not only are we getting people out of their own cars, we are also getting them on a ride that has zero emissions,” she said.

GMT has the only two electric buses in the state right now. They will add two smaller buses to the fleet to serve the capital region. Marble Valley Transit will get two of their own this winter. And three school districts will be testing electric school buses this summer-- Franklin West, CVU and Barre.

“Let’s just really evaluate how these things work, let’s track these incidents and how well they are doing on the road, let’s compare different manufacturers,” said Wallace-Brodeur.

E-buses cost about double the price of a diesel bus but save money over their lifetime. The state hopes to release a plan for the switch to strictly electric transit by the end of this year. But GMT and VEIC are one step ahead.

“It’s a sharper-looking vehicle, passengers love them. It’s a much better ride than some of the shaking and rattling that you experience with the diesel buses,” said Moore. “It certainly is something we are very excited about.”

One downside about electric buses is they are almost silent, so officials want to remind pedestrians to be aware if they are walking in the downtown area. They are also looking into audible alarms for when the buses are crossing intersections.

With more people getting back on buses, Green Mountain Transit is reminding people that as restrictions lift, masks are still required under federal guidance until at least September.

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