Alaska’s capital city of Juneau recently rolled out its first battery-electric bus, marking the first fully electric bus owned by a public transit agency in the state. The Capital Transit Proterra ZX5 hit the road this spring as a part of the city’s commitment to make public transportation safer and more sustainable. The bus – which has an expected lifespan of at least 12 years – is the first of many. As Juneau’s older buses are phased out, each will be replaced with a similar battery-electric model. This move to electric vehicles is happening across the Last Frontier: even the small town of Tok recently made the news as the owner of the state’s first electric school bus. Juneau unveiled its new bus in a small celebration on April 8.
Juneau’s bus is the result of a series of grants that jump-started the city’s move toward cost-effective electric investments: a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Low- or No-Emission grant program and a portion of the $8.125 million that was Alaska’s share of the recent Volkswagen Settlement Fund, provided through the Alaska Energy Authority.
“The City and Borough of Juneau is committed to bringing clean, safe, and reliable public transportation to its ridership and the community,” said the city’s Public Works and Engineering Director Katie Koester. “Capital Transit drivers and mechanics have been retraining to operate and maintain the new bus and to learn the nuances of its integrated battery management system.”
Drivers are reportedly big fans of the new bus, which is turning heads across the city due to its quiet, comfortable ride.
“It is really quiet. It doesn’t rattle near as much,” said Hal Kulm. Kulm is a driver and supervisor at Capital Transit who remarked he can actually hear conversations going on in the back of the bus. “It’s a carbon-fiber body. It’s not a metallic body. So it definitely does dampen the noise. Everything is just done automatically, or just the brakes are engaged as soon as we let off the accelerator. So, it’s recharging as we’re going.”
Kulm and other drivers remarked that the bus feels more powerful than the diesel buses the city owns. In addition to the better ride and less noise, the new bus has no emissions and very few parts that wear out or need repair. That means no oil changes, and little maintenance, even in the city’s harsh cold weather conditions. Riders on the bus’ Mendenhall Express route agree that it’s a big improvement from the older buses.
The Proterra ZX5 is just the beginning of Juneau’s transition to electric buses. The city has been awarded nearly $10 million in grants to eventually replace all of the city’s buses. Currently, seven more buses are on order, each set to replace a diesel model by the end of 2022. The new buses will be five feet shorter than the 40-foot-long first bus, so they can better navigate through the small city streets. Each new bus will prevent 230,000 pounds of pollution each year, a fantastic return on investment for Juneau.