Electric vehicles (EVs) are cropping up nationwide, with Americans owning around 70,000 pure-electric cars and 104,000 plug-in hybrids in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But the problem with EVs is the need to recharge batteries frequently, which is why they make up less than 1 percent of the 226 million registered vehicles in the country.
But a South Carolina company has found an alternative for EVs through public transit. Proterra, a manufacturer for green vehicles, is now outfitting about 12 operators with its new 40-foot, 77-seat electric bus. Mass transit routes in urban areas average about 20 miles or less, and the new Proterra bus can run 30 to 40 miles on just one charge. Proterra operates buses in Florida, Nevada, Massachusetts, Tennessee and outside Los Angeles.
As for charging, the bus only takes about 10 minutes to renew its charge, which means a bus can operate all day long, CEO Ryan Popple tells Fast Company.
While pricing is still an issue when it comes to electric buses, Popple contends the price is falling fast. In fact, the first model sold for $1.2 million in 2010; now buses are bigger, yet cost only $800,000. But the steep cost, he claims, is worth the investment, estimating that the operational costs of a diesel bus average about $500,000 to $600,000 over the span of 12 years compared to the $100,000 it costs for an electric bus.
As uncertainty grows over the wavering gas prices, Popple is adamant the future of mass transit is electric.
“[With natural gas], you’re using a temporarily cheap commodity and wasting it as inefficiently as the old cheap commodity,” he tells Fast Company. “You’re going to see a future where electric buses [have] lower costs to operate, lower emissions, and higher performance. They’re going to obsolete [fossil fuel] combustion in transit.”