HRT receives grant to purchase battery-powered electric buses

NORFOLK, Va. – Hampton Roads Transit has received a $2.29 million federal grant to purchase battery-powered electric buses and the charging stations needed to keep them running.

The grant from the Federal Transit Administration is part of a developing HRT test program to evaluate how modern all-electric vehicles would perform in real-world transit conditions.

This is the second federal grant that HRT has received for this effort – the first grant awarded was $500,000. With this money, the agency will be able to purchase two buses and their associated equipment.

The $2.29 million grant was among the largest in the nation and the only one awarded in Virginia.

The push to explore electric buses is also part of larger effort at HRT to transform its practices to reflect changing market conditions and the evolving desires of the commuting public.

This fall, HRT will begin a study to reevaluate its bus network with an eye to achieving improved efficiencies and to test whether the existing route structure is the best use of public resources. This summer, HRT launched a mobile ticketing project at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront where customers can purchase tickets using cell phones, a first for the agency. A long-term goal is to expand mobile ticketing across the agency.

“I want to thank our federal delegation for their continued support of our vision to drive regional prosperity and make life better for our community,” said William Harrell, president and CEO of HRT. “This federal investment will support HRT’s growth as an innovative, forward-thinking agency.”

Fielding an all-electric bus has advantages, as diesel fuel is the largest non-salary, non-benefit expense at HRT. Depending on market conditions and the ability of the agency to take advantage of long-term contracts, diesel fuel can cost HRT anywhere from $4 million to $10 million a year.

Recently, it has taken about $19,000 a year to fuel a diesel bus. Charging an electric bus, by comparison, costs about $3,200 a year at rates that HRT pays.

The big cost difference, however, is in the vehicle price. A new diesel bus can cost about $469,000. An all electric, battery-powered bus can cost $951,000. The cost difference is recovered through lower fuel and maintenance costs during the first 10 years of the expected 12-year life cycle of the electric bus

No date has been set for the purchase of the new buses.