Four electric buses will hit University of Michigan’s campus next summer



The Xcelsior CHARGE NG 3 electric bus. Image: Jeff Butler, New Flyer

By Elaine Mallon

This is the second story in a 3-part Great Lakes Echo series on sustainable transport in the region

With plans for an all-electric bus fleet by 2035, the University of Michigan will introduce its first four electric buses come next June.

The $3.64 million purchase of the four electric buses falls in line with goals set by the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality.

Currently, there are 56 diesel-fueled buses in the fleet. It is expected to cost $50 million to replace the entire fleet, according to Nick Gallo, the communications manager for logistics, transportation and parking at U-M.

The cost for a 40-foot electric vehicle bus is $850,000, while a new diesel bus purchased in 2022 was $476,000.

According to Gallo, it’s predicted that the additional cost for the electric buses will be offset by lower energy and maintenance costs compared to diesel-powered buses. The university has already ordered four additional buses from the manufacturer New Flyer for 2024.

According to Chris Stoddart, the president of New Flyer, the EVs (electric vehicles) offer up to 250 miles in range on a single charge and will immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, delivering cleaner, quieter, more sustainable transportation to the U-M community.

The buses include batteries with a new lightweight electric traction drive system with up to 90% energy recovery. That means power is supplied to the electric motor very quickly which gives the electric bus high performance and rapid acceleration.

Funding for the initiative comes from Planetblue, which organizes sustainable development projects for the Commission on Carbon Neutrality and has issued $300 million in green bonds.

“Electric buses may help to lower the carbon impact of our bus system, and we’re hopeful that through their visibility, the buses can spur the U-M community to adopt sustainable practices,” Gallo said. “Decarbonizing our vehicle fleet is just one of the university’s steps toward carbon neutrality and sustainability – which were recently detailed in U-M’s inaugural climate action annual report.”

U-M isn’t the only Great Lakes region school going green.

The move away from gas-powered vehicles is also being executed on Michigan State University’s campus.

In April, the university-owned 27-foot Karsan Autonomous e-ATAK began its route. In September, the university also started using 40 new electric vehicles ranging from sedans to minivans.

According to the MSU 2030 Strategic Plan, the university aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from a 2010 baseline, thus eliminating 292,934 metric tons of CO2.

In the next decade, MSU plans to grow its EV fleet by 369 vehicles through its partnership with the state and Consumers Energy’s PowerMIFleet program, according to a press release.

However, both universities still face challenges due to Michigan’s winter climate and the need to build infrastructure to support the electric vehicles, Gallo said. Vehicle heating and air conditioning will require a significant part of the energy output of each bus and will affect how long they last.

In another aspect of the transition, Gallo said U-M mechanics need to have the knowledge and training to service the new buses.

In July, Michigan lawmakers approved funding for a $130 million electric vehicle training center at the U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.

MSUand U-M are not the only colleges in Great Lakes states implementing environmentally friendly public transportation for its students.

With 40 hybrid buses in its fleet, the University of Minnesota embarked on an eight-month research project to see what steps must take place to completely transform its bus fleet to all-electric, as reported by the Minnesota Daily. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, electric buses have been used since 2019.

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