NC State’s Wolfline and the city of Raleigh’s GoRaleigh line are both adding new buses to their fleets in the next year, each with a focus on sustainability and a vision for the future.
In 2018, the city of Raleigh established a plan mandating that 75% of GoRaleigh buses would be comprised of compressed natural gas vehicles, which leave fewer emissions than diesel or gasoline. According to David Eatman, Raleigh transit administrator, the city aims to continue to move toward environmentally conscious transportation.
“We got our first 17 natural-gas vehicles [in 2018], and we are expecting 23 more to be in operation by September of this year,” Eatman said.
Now, the GoRaleigh bus system also plans to integrate five new electric vehicles into their transportation network by next year.
Bryon Bryant, transit manager of NCSU Transportation, said over email that five new Wolfline buses have also arrived on the NC State campus this summer and are expected to run in fall 2019. The Wolfline fleet is comprised of “clean diesel” buses, which meet the most recent EPA standards for clean emissions.
Each of these buses cost approximately $450,000. Bryant said converting to a more environmentally friendly option was infeasible due to the budget and lack of charging infrastructure.
“When we switched our contract in 2017 and purchased our new fleet, we did look into hybrid and electric options,” Bryant said. “However, we just did not have the financial means to do that.”
The GoRaleigh buses were purchased via a $1.65 million federal grant and $2.6 million of funding from the Wake County sales tax for transit, according to Eatman.
“Generally, an electric bus fully equipped is around $850,000-800,000,” Eatman said. “The charging infrastructure we are still investigating, but generally is around $25,000-$30,000. We had enough funding to secure five all-electric buses along with the associated charging infrastructure.”
While the electric buses purchased are initially more expensive than compressed natural gas or diesel buses, Eatman says that in the long run, the cost will even out to about the same as either alternative. This equity in cost will only become more apparent over a governmentally subsidized vehicle’s average life cycle: approximately 12 years or 500,000 miles.
“A diesel bus is probably the cheapest bus to operate, but the life cycle cost over that 12-year period is the most expensive,” Eatman said.
According to Bryant, Wolfline buses are able to endure up to 16 years of service.
GoRaleigh plans to charge their new electric fleet at night and run them for a full service day before returning them to their charging stations, according to Eatman. GoRaleigh recognizes the importance of the often-overlooked benefits of environmentally conscious vehicles.
“It’s something that is beyond our normal cost-benefit analysis,” Eatman said. “The true reduction and carbon emissions, and try to quantify that from a health perspective; the numbers really jump off the chart.”
Bryant said that while funding for electric buses is currently unattainable, NCSU Transportation is open to expanding to more environmentally friendly options if funding eventually permits.
“I think there is always room for improvement,” Bryant said. “Certainly the university is always all about protecting the environment and moving forward in reducing our carbon footprint; we are more than happy to move in that direction as well.”