Vermont trying out electric buses in attempt to reduce carbon footprint

RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) Getting to where you need to go causes environmental issues with transportation blamed as the highest contributor to carbon emissions in Vermont.

So state leaders are asking you to make a big lifestyle change by either investing in an electric vehicle or using public transit.

The Agency of Natural Resources chose three Vermont school districts and one transit agency to try out electric buses. It's just one pilot program of many aimed at dramatically cutting back on Vermont's carbon footprint.

"We're trying to cut back just like everybody else," said Ken Putnam, the executive director at the Marble Valley Regional Transit District.

Cutting back on rising fuel and maintenance costs.

The state blames the transportation sector as the highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont at 40 percent.

Data shows just by replacing two of the Marble Valley Regional Transit District's vehicles with electric buses, it will save more than $200,000 over the buses' more than 10-year lifespan.

That's $19,000 a year in fuel alone, on top of massive maintenance savings.

"There's nothing to fix on an electric bus. You got wheels and brakes," said Putnam.

But regional leaders say the key to successfully reducing carbon emissions is getting more single-occupancy vehicles off the road and those riders on the new buses.

"For those that are maybe more climate-conscious or interested in riding transit for the fist time, an electric bus might be that catalyst to get them over the hump," said Devon Neary, the transportation planner for the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.

The money from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, which the state received through a 2016 settlement, will fund the entire pilot program.

"It's going to pay for tooling, for training, for everything we need to be up and running," said Putnam.

Plus, it will pay for infrastructure upgrades, including charging stations.

State leaders say they chose the district out of a pool of applicants because of where bus drivers go and the data they can collect.

"We have commuter routes, we have fixed routes, we have the resort going up and down the mountain into Killington. We have every type of terrain and every type of ridership there is, we do in Rutland County," said Putnam.

And more than 800,000 people rode those buses last year.

The goal is to test out how it works in Rutland County and what it could look like across the state.

"Let's figure out what's right for Vermont. There's all kinds of considerations that we need to look at. Where is it parked overnight? Obviously, do you have the power to charge it? What are the route lengths? What's the impact of hills? What's the impact of winter or mud season?" said Emily Boedecker, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

State and regional leaders say they're always looking for ways to increase ridership and bringing electric buses to the southern part of the state could encourage more of those people driving around Rutland County to make the switch to public transit.

"The new buses will be a lot more comfortable, cleaner, quieter. So it'll give them a commuting experience that they haven't experienced before," said Neary.

"It's unbelievable to know that we will be part of making the next generation even better," said Putnam.

The Marble Valley team is shopping around for buses right now to determine which model will work best for Rutland County.

They say it will take about nine months to a year to put in the order, then about a year to actually receive them, so the two buses won't hit the roads until around 2022.

Through a different program, Green Mountain Transit will reveal its two brand new electric buses on Tuesday in Burlington.