CAPITAL REGION -- The Capital District Transportation Authority has become the first upstate mass transit agency to put electric buses into service.
The four buses have started running on routes in the Albany area in the last few weeks, and will serve as a pilot project for both CDTA and National Grid, which is providing significant new charging infrastructure inside CDTA's Albany garage on Watervliet Avenue.
"This is a day we have been waiting for quite some time," CDTA CEO Carm Basile said at a formal unveiling of the electric buses Friday morning.
The rollout is the culmination of years of planning and $3.9 million in investment, and is coming in the same week that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his state of the state speech called for widespread adoption of electric bus technology by upstate transit systems.
As part of his agenda to fight climate change, Cuomo called for the five largest upstate and suburban transit authorities, which currently operate 1,400 buses, to electrify 25 percent of their fleets by 2025, and 100 percent by 2035. He proposes a task force to pursue that goal, which is a central part of $1.7 billion in capital funding mass transit agencies are seeking over the next five years.
"We've been having conversations with the governor's office and his staff, so we weren't surprised," Basile said.
While CDTA is the first to put all-electric buses on the road, other transit agencies are working on it, according to the New York Public Transit Association. The Rochester-Genesee Transportation Authority is planning to put 10 electric buses in service this summer.
"We appreciate the governor's announcement on electric buses and stand ready to work with him and legislators across the state to develop a plan to properly fund the infrastructure necessary to make them successful," said Bill Carpenter, CEO of the Rochester agency and president of the state association. "This is why it is important for the state to renew the five-year capital program, as well as providing long-term and sustainable funding for New York state mass transit systems."
Electric buses have lower air emissions that diesel buses, and each bus CDTA put in service will save about 175 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Funding sources required that CDTA remove four diesel buses from its 250-vehicle fleet. CDTA also has 77 electric-diesel hybrid vehicles in its fleet.
The electric vehicles are also quieter than diesel-powered buses, and after the initial purchase, will be much cheaper to operate, requiring no fuel purchases.
The new 37-seat buses are powered by six six-packs of lithium-ion batteries -- a total of 42 batteries. They charge for about six hours overnight on a new $2 million high-voltage charging system, and are rated to run 225 miles on a single charge -- though CDTA isn't expecting them to have that much range in real-world conditions.
"What we want to do is run them on a variety of routes, just to see how they perform," Basile said.
Each bus cost about $900,000, compared to $550,000 for a standard diesel bus, and each of the four chargers installed cost $121,000. Funding included $1.4 million from the state's 2016 Volkswagen settlement, $950,000 in federal funding, a $250,000 state grant, and $1.3 million from CDTA's vehicle replacement reserves.
"With more electric vehicles on the road than ever before, our Capital Region has much to gain from embracing a transition to a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system," said U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who was not at the event but provided a statement.
Assemblyman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, who helped obtain the state grant, said it matters that the buses are going into service in the state capital city. "This is where we can be a showcase," she said.
National Grid officials say they will continue to work closely with CDTA on sharing infrastructure for electric vehicles, acknowledging that the transition can be "daunting."
"As the utility we are committed to helping our customers overcome that barrier to EV adoption," said Laurie Poltynski, National Grid's regional executive. "The Virtual Lab with CDTA gives us the opportunity to explore this process and work hand-in-hand with our customer as they make the transition to cleaner fuels."
Michael Franchini, executive director of the Capital District Transportation Committee, which is working on a 30-year transportation plan, said achieving emissions reduction goals will require widespread adoption of electric vehicle technology.
"I think CDTA is doing a great job being the first ones," Franchini said. "Being the first ones is never easy."