Blacksburg Transit launches first electric buses on Earth Day 2021

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 11:16 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - The town’s quietest new ride has just powered up. Blacksburg will officially unveil its first electric buses that joined the Blacksburg Transit Fleet Thursday to celebrate Earth Day.

The electric buses replace five traditional conventional diesel-powered buses that have been phased out of the system. BT is one of the first in the state to incorporate electricity along its routes.

“It’s really exciting; we can’t wait to get these five buses out into service tomorrow on Earth Day and see how people like them,” Transit Director Tom Fox said.

This is a moment transit director Tom Fox has been waiting for since the fall of 2019. BT tested two brands of electric buses that September, taking them on daily routes to ensure they would be the right fit.

“Blacksburg is a very environmentally conscious community and as soon as we announced that we had grant money available to purchase these buses, the excitement level just went up dramatically,” Fox said.

Three 35-foot buses, and two 60-foot buses, will be rolling around town. The New Flyers were built from scratch for Blacksburg, are charged up and emission free.

“They look very much the same as the diesel bus from the outside, but they don’t have an engine, they don’t have a transmission, they’re extremely quiet,” Fox said. “We’re actually doing this interview with the bus running at this point in time.”

The engine is swapped out with a battery in back and gets plugged in every night, ready to drive about 200 miles a day.

“We hope that we will be able to run them most of a service day, but we’ll monitor them as we get them into service and then we’ll adjust our charging patterns to be able to keep them in service as much as possible.”

The move brings safety and efficiency now to electric levels in town.

“We’re just happy to be part of pursuing those goals,” Fox said. “[Riders] should feel good about being on a zero-emission vehicle getting from place to place.”

BT plans to continue phasing out diesel-powered buses over the next ten years as long as grant funding is available. The fleet consists of just over 50 buses.

Electric buses cost about 50-percent more upon initial purchase, but transit officials estimate it will save $125,000 in operating costs during each 12-year lifespan. Blacksburg joins Alexandria and Hampton Roads in launching these buses. Funding largely came from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Department of Environmental Quality, plus the Town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech locally.

If you want to catch an electric bus in Blacksburg on Earth Day, you can do so along the Progress Street and CRC Routes. Fares are free during COVID and routes are running at two-thirds capacity.

Read more about the new buses here.

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