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Duluth to receive six electric buses

With wraparound windshields fit for the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the future of busing is coming to Duluth in 2016. The Duluth Transit Authority was awarded grants for electric buses and charging stations worth more than $6.3 million by ...

electric buses
Duluth was awarded six electric buses and two charging stations worth more than $6.3 million by the Federal Transit Administration on Monday. (Photo courtesy Duluth Transit Authority)
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With wraparound windshields fit for the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the future of busing is coming to Duluth in 2016. The Duluth Transit Authority was awarded grants for electric buses and charging stations worth more than $6.3 million by the Federal Transit Administration on Monday.
“The announcements started yesterday and we were one of the first to be announced,” said an elated Jim Heilig, the DTA’s director of administration and planning. Heilig described a yearlong grant process that included more than 70 applicant cities. Ten cities were being announced throughout the week as recipients of the buses - a half-dozen of which are bound for Duluth along with two charging stations.
A local share of roughly $1.1 million brings the total project cost to nearly $7.5 million. The buses will be built at Proterra Manufacturing in Greenville, S.C. The 40-foot Proterra zero-emission electric buses and charging stations figure to get a workout in Duluth, where the hills and cold weather helped give the city an edge in securing the newest breed of bus.
“It’s a great demo project because we’ve got something not all applicants had and that’s cold weather,” Heilig said. “Last winter we had 60 days of below-zero temperatures. This will be excellent test of these buses.”
Heilig said the buses have been tested in Massachusetts, but in “nothing like our winters.”
The buses take under 10 minutes to charge and, in cold weather, are expected to run 25 miles between charges. Those expectations double in the summer. One charging station is set for the Multimodal Transportation Center on Michigan Street, currently under construction, and another for a to-be-determined location. Heilig expected the buses will be used on short jaunts in and around the downtown area.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan serves on the House Transportation Committee and wrote a letter supporting Duluth’s application. He called it “tremendous news” for the city, which figures to retire six diesel buses once it receives the new ones.
“Duluth is probably the best city in the nation to demonstrate fast-charging electric bus technology,” Nolan said in a news release. “With this grant, Duluth will lead the way for other cold-weather cities looking to incorporate sustainable technologies into their transit systems.”
The DTA’s use of Intelligent Transportation Systems also helped seal the grant, Heilig said. He described a list of things used by the DTA, including: counters on all buses to track customers and collect data; systems that inform employees of things like oil leaks so buses can be taken out of service before major malfunctions; a WebWatch system that allows customers to track buses online in real time.
“We were the third system in the entire country on Google Transit, which was awesome for a small town,” Heilig said. “Our full package of ITS-type products is top five in the nation. Having all of that kind of stuff hooked up makes our dependability great and our service responsiveness great.”

Proterra Bus Facts:

  • 575 percent fuel advantage over a standard diesel bus
  • Enables a 30 percent reduction in annual maintenance spending
  • Lightweight composite body will never corrode
  • A very quiet ride for patrons and no tailpipe
  • 30- to 40-mile range
Related Topics: TRANSPORTATIONWEATHER
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