Electric city buses make public debut

Electric bus
ELECTRIC AVENUE: One of Asheville’s new electric buses drops off passengers after completing its inaugural loop of downtown. Photo by Daniel Walton

City officials rolled out the latest addition to Asheville’s transit system — five all-electric buses from Greenville, S.C.-based Proterra — with great fanfare in front of the Asheville Redefines Transit station on Feb. 15. The buses themselves, however, glided along with scarcely any noise at all on their inaugural loops around downtown.

“You can actually have a conversation on the way,” remarked Council member Julie Mayfield as she took her first trip on one of the new vehicles. But beyond improving rider experience, she noted, the new wheels play a key role in the city’s carbon reduction goals.

Proterra model electric buses
SEA OF GREEN: Proterra, the maker of Asheville’s new electric buses, handed out model vehicles at the debut event. Photo by Daniel Walton

Even accounting for the fossil fuels needed to generate the electricity they will use, Mayfield said, each vehicle will produce 54 fewer tons of annual carbon emissions than one of Asheville’s current buses. Once all five buses hit the streets, the total emissions savings of 270 tons will make up a third of the city’s annual carbon reduction target.

The financial cost of achieving those carbon savings, Mayfield noted, was largely defrayed by grants from the Federal Transit Administration and French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization. Asheville is responsible for funding roughly 20 percent of the fleet acquisition; a purchase order for one bus and its associated charging station came to approximately $617,000, making Asheville’s share of the bill about $123,000.

In a press release issued before the event, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel explained that three electric buses have been delivered, with two more scheduled to arrive in March. Bus drivers and maintenance staff will be trained on operating the new vehicles, and they will enter passenger service sometime in the spring. Three more buses are expected to arrive before the end of 2019.

Transit advocates with protest signs at electric bus debut
GET ROLLING: Transit advocates call for Asheville City Council to fund and implement the Transit Master Plan on its originally scheduled July 1 start date. Photo by Daniel Walton

Transit advocates at the debut, including the Rev. Amy Cantrell of Better Buses Together, applauded the new buses but emphasized that they are just one component of much-needed upgrades to Asheville’s transit system. Council members approved a far-reaching Transit Master Plan last year, which calls for a 44 percent increase in service hours starting on July 1, but have yet to allocate money for its implementation.

“They’re saying we still can’t do it July 1, even though that was the timeline they set. We as riders are constantly being asked to wait. We’ve seen this multiple, multiple times,” Cantrell said. “Transit can’t wait.”

Speaking with Xpress from her seat on the new bus, Mayfield affirmed that implementing the plan by its initially scheduled date was unlikely. Staffing challenges within both the city and transit management company RATP Dev, she said, meant she wouldn’t make “any bets for July 1.”

However, Mayfield said she would make a bet of “100 percent” that the first round of Transit Master Plan changes would come into effect by January 2020. The city’s additional property tax revenue from newly for-profit Mission Hospital — estimated as roughly $7 million annually — “means that the money is not an object any more,” she explained.

“I don’t know that the city has another, higher priority,” Mayfield continued. “Expanding this system is making Asheville more affordable for everyone who lives here, and affordability, in my mind, is the biggest challenge. We put a lot of money toward affordable housing; we have not done the equivalent for transit, and the Mission money offers us the opportunity to do that.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

9 thoughts on “Electric city buses make public debut

  1. Smh

    Nice…now if ART can manage to keep the toilets working at their “bus station!” Men’s toilet is closed for days at a time! Men are using the already filthy women’s bathroom when this happens! Quite the place to depend on! Health Department needs to be involved! This is a heath risk for everyone…kids use these filthy places, too! This has been going on for three months! This is not the way to become better, ART!

  2. Curious

    ” . . .’You can actually have a conversation on the way,’ remarked Council member Julie Mayfield as she took her first trip on one of the new vehicles. . . ”

    Her first ride on the electric bus, perhaps, but what about her rides on other buses? Does Council member Mayfield ride the bus regularly, to and from her place of business, to attend Council meetings, etc. It would be interesting to know how many Council members use the bus for their regular mode of transportation?. What are statistics on City employees using the bus as their regular mode of transportation to and from work?

  3. Jim Reeves

    No word on reducing the “carbon footprint” of the many breweries in Asheville whose main byproduct of manufacturing beer is CO2, guess it doesn’t fit the agenda…

  4. Keith Thomson

    Proterra is a leader in the design and manufacture of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles, enabling bus fleet operators to significantly reduce operating costs while delivering clean, quiet transportation to local communities across North America. The company’s configurable Catalyst platform is capable of serving the full daily mileage needs of nearly every transit route on a single charge. Proterra products are proudly designed, engineered and manufactured in America, with offices in Silicon Valley, South Carolina, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit: proterra.com and follow us on Twitter @Proterra_Inc.


    • Robin

      Keith Thomson, why don’t you buy an add instead of using the comments section for it?
      The City of Asheville bought Proterra buses, so you’ve hit your target audience. I assure you that there is not another government entity, who reads the Mountain Express, that will ever utter the words, “money is not an object” Only in Asheville will a politician says those words about taxpayer money being used for such a heavily subsidized endeavor.

      I also have a request of Council member Mayfield: Money is an object, and I, for one, would appreciate it if you would stop throwing it away on money-losing pet City projects, including:
      -Transit- the Asheville transit system has been a drain on the Asheville coffers for decades.
      – Civic Center- Same story.
      – Recreation (namely those oft flooded soccer fields)- The latest news is that you’re throwing away another $875,000 to fix the flooded fields that cost millions of dollars to build them “flood proof”. It would be considerably cheaper if City officials just periodically dumped buckets of money into the Swannanoa River. Then they would get the added bonus of the hundreds of homeless living along the river finding the money and being able to buy another dog or even have professionally designed panhandling signs made.

      • Keith Thomson

        I do not work for Proterra. I do admire American technological and industrial leadership. It is sad that you don’t.

        • Robin

          In reply to Keith Thomson:
          I never said a bad word about Proterra, or American industrial leadership. With three successive posts, and accompanying videos, that read like ads; I ascribed that you had a motive other than informing MtnX readers. My apologies.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.