Connecticut plans to add 22 electric buses to its CTransit bus fleet, making a total of 34 electric public transit buses, once the new buses arrive in about 18 months. It will do so using an $11.4 million grant from the federal government that comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration’s Buses and Bus Facilities Program. The total cost to add the 22 electric buses is $25.7 million, which includes retrofitting garages with chargers. Electric buses are much more expensive than their diesel fuel counterparts. Generally, the purchase price of a diesel-fueled bus is $650,000, while the purchase price of an electric bus is between $950,000 and $1 million—about 50 percent more—without consideration of the infrastructure cost. The recent purchase is part of a larger goal to turn the entire state fleet of over 800 buses electric.
Connecticut assumed that the electric buses would last 12 years—about the same amount of time as a diesel bus. However, one of the buses delivered in 2021 lasted only one year as its lithium-ion battery caught fire. The fire was difficult to extinguish due to the thermal chemical process that produces a large amount of heat and continually reignites. Firemen had to use “copious” amounts of water to extinguish the flames. Two CT Transit workers exposed to smoke and two firefighters with heat exhaustion were transported to a hospital and released following treatment. The bus was made by New Flyer in Minnesota.
Earlier this year, two electric buses in Paris had their batteries catch fire, causing the fleet of 149 electric buses to be temporarily suspended as a precaution. The buses were Bluebus 5SE model made by manufacturer Bollore. The second bus that caught fire occurred on April 29th in southeast Paris and was put out by around 30 firefighters after the passengers were evacuated. The first fire occurred over 3 weeks earlier, destroying the vehicle but causing no injuries. According to the company, the buses are “fitted with a new generation of batteries… with high energy density and optimal safety” spread around the roof and rear of the vehicle.
According to Richard Andreski, the public transit bureau chief for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, electric buses are “more than 80 percent more efficient in terms of powertrain, production, life-cycle maintenance, and fuel consumption” than diesel buses. They are also supposed to be more reliable and cheaper in the long run than diesel buses, according to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut. Andreski also agrees that electric buses are less expensive in the long run due to no gasoline or diesel costs and cheaper maintenance costs. But, they are not including the cost of charging infrastructure, fire suppression equipment, and poor performance issues when temperatures freeze or in excessive heat that other cities have found when transitioning to electric buses, which can double their cost relative to diesel buses.
Biden’s Federal Requirements
President Joe Biden signed executive orders to replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles, electrify 20 percent of the nation’s school bus fleet, and direct his agencies to develop a clean fleets plan for federal, state, local, and tribal governments, which includes the quasi-independent U.S. Postal Service. By 2035, the Biden administration wants the entire federal fleet to purchase electric vehicles only, with light-duty vehicles making the shift by 2027.
USPS Changes Its EV Position
The U.S. Postal Service recently committed to buying a much larger portion of electric mail trucks than previously planned. USPS indicated that at least 50 percent of its first $3 billion, 50,000-vehicle purchase would be battery electrics, up from the 20 percent it had initially slated. The shift is viewed as significant for the trajectory of electric vehicles, considering that the Postal Service’s 212,000 vans constitute about a third of all federal vehicles and make up the largest civilian fleet in the world, according to the Government Accountability Office. In February, USPS had originally planned to buy up to 165,000 “next-generation” delivery trucks that are custom-designed to replace the Postal Service’s aging fleet — of which no more than 10 percent would be battery electrics. In February, EPA and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality in a letter urged the Postal Service to reconsider that framework, as did a lawsuit filed by 16 states. Along with the 50 percent purchase, USPS proposed buying an additional 34,500 commercial off-the-shelf vehicles. Altogether, at least 40 percent of the Postal Service’s initial vehicle procurement would be battery electric based on the service’s blueprint.
On July 27, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin announced a deal on legislation based upon President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan that would fund a more aggressive battery electric program for the U.S. Post Office, including roughly $6 billion of which $3.4 billion will be for charging and infrastructure and almost $2.6 billion for vehicles.
Electric vehicles are being pushed by the Biden administration despite having performance problems and fire issues from their lithium-ion batteries. The USPS was made to change its initial order of 10 percent electric vehicles to at least 40 percent by objections from the Biden administration and lawsuits from blue states. The claim is that electric vehicles are less expensive and “cleaner” in the long run than diesel or gasoline vehicles, but those comparative costs do not include the infrastructure changes needed. Until the problems with electric vehicles can be worked out, riders may become stranded and Americans can expect their mail to be delayed further than it already is. The Senate’s latest attempt to resurrect the “Build Back Better” program of President Biden promotes even more funding for electrification of the Post Office fleet, without regard to the performance and cost problems.