The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

Electric Avenue

When Emilie Gille hops on an East-West bus, she’s not usually going to class. Instead, she’s starting her usual afternoon shift as a University of Georgia (UGA) campus transit worker.

“I really like it because it’s really independent,” Gille, a sophomore public relations major from Gainesville, says. “You’re kind of your own boss because you’re the person who’s in charge of your bus, and you have to handle anything that goes on.”

It wasn’t a short process to get to this level of independence, though. Gille started training last May and only began driving alone at the beginning of this semester. And soon student drivers will be training on electric buses instead of diesel.

Funding the Initiative

A $10 million grant was funded during the summer by the GO! Transit Capital Program during the 2015 Legislative Session, where $75 million went out to different organizations around Georgia to address public transportation needs. Don Walter, director of transportation and parking services at UGA, says the applying for this grant was a competitive process; auxiliary services wrote the grant, and UGA was the only school chosen by the state. UGA matched that with another $5 million in order to add 19 electric buses to the fleet.

Walter says this project must go through procurement, and the buses must be manufactured before they will become a staple of transit. There is currently no set date for this change.

“We know in the long run this is going to save a lot of money,” Walter says.

Transit plans to take out 12 buses and put in 19 or 20 zeroemission electric buses, starting with the oldest models.

Fueling the Fleet

“The energy transfer [for electric buses] is happening somewhere else at a power plant,” says Jason Perry, certified energy manager at UGA’s Office of Sustainability. “That power plant might be natural gas-fired, it might be coal-fired, it might be solar panels and it might be wind. But the emission controls on even a coal-fired plant is better than a pre-2007 model diesel bus, which spews black filth every time it accelerates.”

Perry says electric vehicles make sense, especially for fleet vehicles, because of the cost efficiency and the health benefits. “The particulates from diesel fuel combustion are carcinogenic, so getting that stuff off of campus is good for everyone on campus,” he says.

Campus transit is still in the research phase of this project. Walter said they’re still looking at different bus company options and planning for support.

“This isn’t something that has been done in any university in the eastern United States,” he says. “So we’re kind of pioneering new territory, and we want to make sure we do it right.”

Transit is looking at the range, batteries and features of the buses from BYD, Proterra and New Flyer, Walter says. The latest test was a New Flyer bus. Walter says with the heater running and a constant load of students, the bus ran a seven-hour day and had 25 percent charge left. “It was a lower-line bus,” he says. “It wasn’t even an extended-range bus, so we know it’s going to work.”

There will be no en-route chargers because a bus can go through a day without losing all charge, and Walters says the batteries are constantly improving.

“The expense for en-route chargers is tremendous,” he says. “During the day, you would be charging at peak price for power, but we’re going to charge at night when we get a big discount for power.”

Perry says since UGA is a public university, the campus also gets power at a subsidized rate from the electric grid.

Sometime this year, Campus Transit will be added to UGA’s electric grid, so the costs to charge the buses will fall under this subsidy in addition to the already discounted night prices. Perry says the energy from the grid is always becoming more green as well.

“They’ll be immediate savings plus the savings of not having to buy diesel buses,” Walter says.

Costs

Walter says an electric bus costs around $750,000, while a diesel one is priced at $450,000. “The drawback of the electric buses was always the initial cost, but our $10 million grant and $5 million UGA match has taken care of that drawback,” he says.

Walter indicates there will be a 70 percent reduction in maintenance on the electric buses because of there is no engine, exhaust, fuel costs or oil changes. The diesel buses usually must be replaced approximately every 12 years because of engine or transmission problems, while electric buses could last upward of 20 to 30 years, he says.

As for the old diesel buses, Campus Transit sells them at inexpensive prices. “I think one of them was in a zombie movie as a blown-up bus,” Walter says.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Erin Schilling is a staff writer for The Red & Black (www.redandblack.com), an independent weekly student newspaper serving the University of Georgia. This article is excerpted from that publication and used with permission.

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