Blacksburg Transit tests electric buses

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)— The New River Valley is becoming a hotspot to test new technologies. From drones to self-driving cars, the community is exploring new innovations.

WDBJ7 photo

Now, that means you might see new electric buses rolling around town.

“We’re going to a cleaner type of technology for our bus that basically is a zero-emission vehicle. Long term we expect that these will be at least as reliable as the ones we have and possibly more,” said Blacksburg Transit Director Tom Fox.

This week, BT will test two 35-foot buses. They’re starting with the New Flyer model at the beginning of the week, then eventually trying the Proterra.

“We’re going to be hearing from our bus operators, our maintenance employees, our customers, to see which ones they like better, and we’ll take that into consideration and make the decision about which company to buy from,” Fox said.

The New Flyer, which WDBJ7 had a chance to ride, is a ‘zero-emissions’ bus. Fox said they’ve been waiting for the technology to be more reliable, so now they’re putting it to the test.

“The cost for the energy is much more predictable as opposed to diesel fuel, which can go from two dollars to five dollars,” Fox said. “The cost of electricity is a lot more stable and makes it easier to budget.”

The riders we spoke to all could not get over how quiet the New Flyer was compared to the regular BT buses.

“It’s very quiet, so it’s kind of obvious it’s not the normal bus,” said rider Allison Carlock. “I was kind of hoping I would get a chance to sit on the bus. Here I am!”

“The bus is really quiet, it’s quiet enough to do this interview,” said rider Neeraj Srinivas. “I think it’s kind of overdue, but it’s a welcome change.”

Beyond being able to have a conversation, the bus provides another level of comfort compared to your typical buses.

“[The seats on normal buses] are very prickly, it’s hard to explain,” Carlock said. “When you’re wearing shorts in the summer, sliding around on them just gives you a weird carpet burn going on. It’s just very uncomfortable.”

The bus might ride and feel like what you’re used to, but everywhere you look you can learn a little more about how efficient it is, whether it’s the sign that touts a six minute rapid charge time for an hour and a half of juice, or how the bus operates.

“The campus has a lot of trees and a lot of greenery around so it’s only natural that our busses are zero emissions,” Srinivas said.

“We live in a college town, I think they should definitely keep up with technology and I think it’s a great idea,” said rider Catherine Spennacchio.

With the state and federal funding BT was able to receive, they can buy three of the 35-foot buses they’re testing this week, and two of the double, 60-foot buses.

They have 30 to 45 days to make a decision on which brand of bus they want after they finish the demos. Then, it could be another 12 to 15 months before they’re officially on the road.

They are testing these buses on different routes and terrain to make sure the batteries can last an entire day of driving.

The plan is to eventually replace all of the buses as long as funding is available. A typical bus life is about 12 years, so it could be another decade before all of them switch over.

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