An electric demonstration bus stops at the Tate Center bus stop on September 26, 2018. The bus was run on the Orbit route during the morning hours to see how it handled on UGA's roads. The bus is part of an ongoing test program run by UGA campus transit to see which type of electric bus will work best on campus. UGA has been given a grant of $10 million to invest in electric busses. (Photo/Julian Alexander)

In an effort to become more environmentally friendly, the University of Georgia is set to introduce electric buses during the fall 2019 semester.

The 19 Proterra Catalyst E2 40-foot buses add to UGA’s growing campus transit system, which is one of the largest in the country with more than 11 million annual riders. Though an exact date of arrival has not been set, the addition of the buses represents a greener move on behalf of the university’s administration.

UGA began testing the electric buses after receiving a $10 million grant in 2016 from the GO! Transit Capital Program, administered by Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority. The grant was applied for in 2015 through a partnership between Campus Transit and the Office of Sustainability.

The estimated cost for the 19 electric buses and 14 chargers is $16 million, Director of UGA Transportation and Parking Services Don Walter said. UGA Transportation and Parking Services will provide the remaining amount for the purchase. The funds will come from transit capital reserves.

“With zero-emissions, we are taking a step forward in reducing carbon emissions,” Walter said. “The buses will dramatically reduce transportation, maintenance and operating costs for the university, which will in turn help to keep student fees low.”

To ensure the best bus technology possible, UGA tested new features including bus capacity, handling, turning, hill climbing, battery range, rider and driver experience, acceleration, braking, maintenance and durability, Walter said. The long testing process was the reason electric buses were not implemented sooner.

The benefits

According to Forbes, a typical electric bus is around 58% more expensive than a diesel bus. However, energy costs for operating the electric buses cost less than $10 per day, while a diesel bus costs $90 per day per bus, Walter said.

“The more we can electrify things where we have an opportunity to do so, the better our overall environmental footprint will be,” Office of Sustainability Program Coordinator Jason Perry said. “The benefits are fuel cost savings, reduced greenhouse admission and tailpipe emissions. Electric buses have no tailpipe.”

While passengers will have the chance to test out the new buses, students and faculty in the College of Engineering will have the opportunity to conduct research by having access to the electric buses’ live performance data.

“The more we can electrify things where we have an opportunity to do so, the better our overall environmental footprint will be.”

— Jason Perry, Office of Sustainability program coordinator 

The Proterra Catalyst bus can travel more than 1,100 miles on a single charge and has twice the horsepower and five times the efficiency of a diesel bus. In emergencies, the batteries that are used to charge the buses can also supply power to UGA buildings that have been appropriately modified, Walter said.

Student’s thoughts

Abigail West, Office of Sustainability intern, said the adoption of electric buses puts UGA in the position to be a “huge leader.”

“If we take steps like this, it shows that these things are important,” West said. “It demonstrates that were committed to applying alternative energy sources.”

Steve Dubose, a junior management information systems major from Lilburn, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It creates less pollution for our ecosystem and electric buses also provide a cleaner drive,” Dubose said. “If there’s an opportunity for me to ride or even drive an electric bus on campus in the future, I would absolutely love to see that happen.”

The new buses will provide a smoother and quieter experience than diesel buses while having the same interior space. Depending on the experience with the new buses, UGA could see more electric buses arriving on campus in the future, Perry said.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, The Red & Black misstated the value of the grant from the GO! Transit Capital Program. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been fixed.

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