North Carolina city spent millions on electric buses that don’t run

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The city of Asheville, North Carolina, shelled out millions of dollars in 2018 to add five electric buses to its fleet. Now, three of the five sit idle, and city employees are telling the cautionary tale.

Asheville’s interim transportation director, Jessica Morriss, told local station WLOS-TV that the three out-of-commission buses are down due to a combination of software issues and mechanical problems, and one has had a broken door since July that can’t be replaced.

“We haven’t been able to get new doors,” Morriss told the outlet. “There’s no third party that makes a door. We’d have to get custom-made doors.”

Part of the issue is that the company that made the electric buses, Proterra, filed for bankruptcy in August. According to The News & Observer, Proterra’s operations are still shut down. The company was recently purchased by Phoenix Motor, but it is unclear when parts and services for existing Proterra buses will be available.

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“The last couple of years have been particularly difficult,” Morriss said. “We don’t see an end in sight.”

Asheville North Carolina skyline

In the meantime, Asheville is staring down losses from a major investment. Morriss told WLOS each bus cost at least $616,000, and the city had to spend another $200,000 for the installation of each charger, another $118,000 every year to lease batteries for the buses and nearly $45,500 annually in electric costs to charge them.

She also noted maintenance costs for the electric buses have topped $250,000. At the same time, having most of the electric buses out of operation has increased wear and tear on the rest of the 32 buses in the fleet, which either run on biodiesel or are hybrid models.

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Maintenance director John McDaniel also weighed in on the problems Asheville has had with its electric buses. He told WLOS that the two electric buses that are still in operation can only travel around 78 miles in the wintertime before needing to return to the shop and charge for hours.

Asheville city bus driver

“There’s some lessons here for sure,” Morriss told the outlet. “We’re pressing pause on investing in any electric technology until we can assure the products we get are going to be able to work.”

City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller said in a statement to FOX Business that “There can often be unidentified issues when adapting any new technology,” and acknowledged that “[p]resently, the City is not pursuing the purchase of additional fully electric buses.”

“This decision stems from the need for the electric bus industry to mature and align more closely with Asheville Rides Transit’s specific requirements in terms of vehicle range, reliability, size, and cost-effectiveness,” she said. “Despite these setbacks, the City remains committed to providing transit service and exploring more sustainable and efficient transit solutions.”

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