With Grant to Fund Electric Buses, HRT Embraces New Technologies

Hampton Roads Transit has received a $2.29 million federal grant to purchase battery-powered electric buses and the charging stations needed to keep them running.

The grant from the Federal Transit Administration is part of a developing HRT test program to evaluate how modern all-electric vehicles would perform in real-world transit conditions.

This is the second federal grant that HRT has received for this effort and together they mean the agency could currently purchase two buses and their associated equipment. The first grant was for $500,000. HRT hopes to leverage both grants with additional state funds to expand the pilot program.

The $2.29 million grant was among the largest in the nation and the only one awarded in Virginia.

HRT hopes to expand this program to six buses and as such will attempt to secure additional money from the Commonwealth, a process that will take time. No immediate date has been set to acquire the novel buses.

Electric buses would not be expansion units and would instead replace buses already programed for replacement in HRT’s Capital Improvement Program. They would account for about 2% of the total HRT fleet and aid in the reduction of average fleet age.

Fielding an all-electric bus has numerous advantages.

Diesel fuel is the largest non-salary, non-benefit expense at HRT. Depending on market conditions and the ability of the agency to take advantage of long-term contracts, diesel fuel can cost HRT anywhere from $4-10 million a year.

Recently, it has taken about $19,000 a year to fuel a diesel bus. Charging an electric bus, by comparison, costs about $3,200 a year at rates that HRT pays. Diesel engine maintenance can run $49,000 a year during the bus life-cycle while electric buses are projected to cost about $15,000.

HRT finds the prospect of an electric bus attractive for other reasons, too.  It has expertise in electric propulsion and propulsion power in both Bus and Light Rail Departments. Three maintenance bays in the Norfolk Division are already equipped to Maintain this type of bus.

Buses can be charged overnight when utility energy demand is lowest and supply is highest, Dominion Energy has expressed a willingness to partner with HRT on this project and could result in some cost savings.

Climate and topography of the Hampton Roads region are ideal for maximizing the operating range on a single charge.

The big cost difference, however, is in the vehicle price. A new diesel bus can cost about $469,000. An all-electric, battery-powered bus can cost $951,000. The cost difference is recovered through lower fuel and maintenance costs during the first 10 years of the expected 12-year life cycle of the electric bus.

IT may to up to ten years to recover the cost difference between diesel and electric buses including charging infrastructure. Operating cost saving for the 2.41 years of remaining life for six buses is estimated at $726,774 or $3.62M over the 12-year life.

Labor savings of approximately 54,861 hours for 6 electric buses over a 12-year life span can be applied to achieving State of Good Repair for the diesel fleet.