A new change is coming to the Aggie Spirit bus system as Texas A&M’s Department of Transportation Services has purchased three electric and 35 diesel buses to be added to its fleet this coming summer.
Due to the large size of A&M’s campus, the bus system is an essential service used by many students. Doug Williams, a director within Transportation Services, said the department has investigated purchasing alternatively fueled buses for some time. He said between the expensive price and new infrastructure support, cost put these alternative options out of reach.
“Historically, Transportation Services has been responsible for providing 100 percent of the funds required to acquire and operate the bus system,” Williams said. “Typical municipal transit systems are designated as the transit authority eligible to receive subsidization by the federal government to acquire capital.”
In the early 2000s, the university partnered with the Brazos Transit District to apply for and obtain its first subsidy with government funds, but they were unsuccessful until 2018, Williams said.
“We made a concerted effort in the 2018 application to appeal to the stated goals and requirements of the BUILD, Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, grant program offered at that time, including appealing to the government desire to acquire zero emission buses,” Williams said.
In their application, Transportation Services specified they would use the funds from the BUILD grant to purchase diesel buses in addition to three zero-emission, electric-powered buses acquired for $443,487 and $936,585 per bus respectively, Williams said.
“Thanks to the grant, the university paid just 30 percent of the total cost for these units,” Williams said. “The total purchase has allowed us to retire 35 buses, 2001 and 2002 year models, that were becoming extremely expensive and difficult to keep in service.”
Transportation Services elected to purchase three electric buses in the grant application because they wanted to test their performance and gauge the feasibility of moving toward an all-electric fleet, Transportation Services manager Madison Metsker-Galarza said.
“There were more logistical details involved in the electric bus order because we also needed electric chargers to ‘fuel’ them,” Metsker-Galarza said. “This required coordination with Texas A&M Utilities and Energy Services and SSC, plus the vendor, Proterra, coming on site to commission the chargers.”
Transportation Services has no prior experience with electric buses, but the transit industry is moving toward this technology with enthusiasm, Transportation Services manager Justin Tippy said.
“We hope to gain experience with these buses as operators as we enjoy the benefits of cheaper and cleaner fuel,” Tippy said. “There is some anxiety due to the unknown factors of range, comfort, reliability and other performance measures, [but] we anticipate success as we transition to electric vehicles.”
Since the initial order of three electric and 35 diesel buses, Transportation Services requested nine additional diesel buses, scheduled for delivery in fall of 2021, so they can retire the older buses in the fleet, Transportation Services assistant director Madeline Dillard said.
“Over the summer and fall, we hope to collect an array of data from running electric buses in our fleet,” Dillard said. “This will help inform our decisions about future bus purchases.”