The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)
- By Erin Schilling
- April 1st, 2017
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,”
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.
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.
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.