Breckenridge demos electric bus on the town’s busiest route
March 22, 2018
Breckenridge took its maiden voyage into the future of public transportation Thursday by launching a month-long demonstration of an all-electric bus in its transit fleet. This is the first electric bus to operate a route in a Colorado mountain town for an extended period of time.
After months of negotiation, the Town of Breckenridge partnered with California-based automotive company Proterra to test the bus on the Yellow route, where it will operate as any other regular diesel bus until the demonstration ends at the end of April. The town is so confident in the vehicle's performance that they assigned the electric bus to Breck's busiest Free Ride route, the Yellow route.
The electric bus was launched during an event at the Breckenridge Public Works facility on Airport Road. Transit and town officials, media and a Proterra sales engineer boarded the sleek, 40-foot long blue and green-trimmed bus as it made a short loop to CMC Breckenridge and back. Proterra vehicles are currently in operation for public transit systems across the country, including Park City, Utah, and Clemson Area Transit in South Carolina.
From the outside, the bus is whisper quiet, with only the gentle whine of a spinning electric motor powered by a 440 kwh electric battery charged by standard electricity. On a full 7-hour charge, the model on demonstration can travel up to 120-150 miles a day, with worse performance at colder temperatures. The battery is protected with advanced heating, cooling and insulating technology that protects the battery from external conditions.
Proterra sales engineer Ryan Saunders said his company's electric buses are perfectly suited for a mountain town, as they are environmentally ultra-friendly and quieter than diesel buses "by degrees of magnitude." He added that the bus has an regenerative braking system that actually benefits from the stop-and-go nature of public bus operation.
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Video by Hugh Carey and Heather Jarvis.
"The battery is also charged by the kinetic force in the brakes, meaning that stop-and-go traffic is actually an operational benefit," Saunders said. "Combined with the environmental benefits and how quiet it is, Proterra's electric buses are perfect for the needs of a mountain town's public transit system."
Passengers will not see much of a difference inside the bus, which has 40 seats and can carry up to 60 passengers. The bus is designed with a large windshield that spans the entire length and height of the bus front, offering improved safety with greater visibility for the driver.
While still quieter than a diesel engine, sitting inside the Proterra is similar to the cabin of a commercial airliner. Aside from the hiss of hydraulics and brake squeal, the electric motor produces a whine that grows louder with acceleration. At its height, the motor whine can get almost as loud as a window seat next to a jumbo jet engine. However, Saunders explained that the bus on demonstration is an older version of Proterra's Catalyst E2 model, and that the latest model has a quieter, more comfortable cabin experience.
Electric buses do not burn any diesel or natural gas. According to Saunders, the bus is four times as energy efficient as a regular diesel bus, with 21 equivalent miles per gallon compared to diesel buses which usually only get 4-5 miles to the gallon.
The Proterra bus is a zero emission vehicle producing no carbon or particulate matter. Saunders said the motor still produces up to 310 horsepower and 500 pounds of torque, but the latest version of the company's vehicle is equipped with a dual motor powertrain that is more powerful, quieter and equipped with the latest in traction and brake system tech.
When it comes to safety, this bus is deceptively tough. The Proterra's body is made up of a lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced composite material that the company says is much more durable, efficient and cheaper to maintain than a regular steel frame body. Breckenridge head of transportation Fred Williamson recalled a remarkable example of the composite body's resiliency.
"One of these buses got T-boned by a SUV," Williamson said. "The SUV got totaled and they had to tow it to scrap. The bus went back into normal operation the same day. Almost no real damage."
As far as cost, Williamson said the upfront cost to lease one of Proterra's 35 foot buses is around $800,000, compared to around a half million for a regular diesel bus. However, Saunders said that the bus may potentially recoup half its initial cost over time in fuel and maintenance savings. He offered the example of the company's version of the bus operating in the Clemson Area Transit system.
"Even with the first version of the bus with all its additional initial engineering issues, they were still seeing a dollar per mile maintenance savings, which is huge," Saunders said. "As we've progressed with the technology, those savings will be even larger."
Williamson said that the town urges the public to provide feedback about the electric bus. He added that the town is very pleased with the vehicle's performance and efficiency, and and hopes to have a few of them in the Free Ride fleet full-time by the end of the year.
"We're very excited about it," Williamson said. "We've been working on getting the bus on a route for a while. Right now Proterra seems to be victims of their own success, and have a huge backlog for production, but we hope to lease a couple of their buses here in November."
The electric bus is currently operating on Breck's Yellow Route, which starts at Breckenridge Station and serves stops from Beaver Run to CMC Breckenridge. Buses on the Yellow Route stop every 15 minutes from 6:15 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.
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