Archive for Thursday, September 7, 2006

City urged to jump on electric buses

Community has right tools to test new technology, expert says

September 7, 2006


If Lawrence is really serious about being a high-tech city of the future, John Powell has a great billboard to advertise it: a fleet of electric buses.

"You want to send a signal that you're a visionary community, that you are not just any other city; electric buses do that," said Powell, executive director of the Advanced Transportation Technology Institute, who was in town Wednesday to speak to Kansas University and city leaders about the technology.

Powell told university and transit leaders that he thinks either KU or the city has an excellent chance of being a testing ground for new electric bus technology.

"I think you have a real opportunity here," Powell said. "You have a lot of expertise at KU, you have a good transit system and a strong state department of transportation."

The latest technology in the electric bus industry is a new charging system that allows the batteries of buses to be charged while they're still on their route rather than being taken back to their garages, Powell said. Current technology requires the batteries of electric buses to be charged about every 90 miles, which has been a stumbling block for many communities wanting to convert their systems to electric.

Powell, though, said he thought a system such as the shuttle service provided on the KU campus could be a good testing ground. Robert Honea, the new director of the KU Transportation Research Institute, agreed.

Honea, who started at KU about two months ago, is a former board member of Powell's Advanced Transportation Technology Institute, which is considered one of the larger electric bus research organizations in the country.

"I was coming back from the office one day and got a mouthful of fumes from one of our diesel buses," Honea said. "I thought, 'I don't know why we put up with this. There's a better way.'"

Honea said that it makes sense for KU to take up electric bus technology as a field of research. He said the KU Transportation Research Institute is designed to handle such projects.

"We're really going to examine all the possibilities to bring a demonstration project here," Honea said. "What I hope I can do is provide the catalyst to make it happen."

University and city leaders will be watching with interest. Leaders of both the city and university transit systems have said they're interested in alternative fuel technology, but they said economic issues were a concern. Electric buses are traditionally 20 percent to 25 percent more expensive to purchase than traditional diesel buses, Powell said. The buses obviously save on fuel costs, but other specialized equipment, battery replacement and training costs can make operational costs nearly equal.

"If we could become a part of a demonstration project and tap into some alternative funding that way, it might become more economically feasible," said Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit for KU. "Lawrence is a very green community. I'm sure people would like the idea."

Powell said the electric buses improve air quality because true electric buses have no tailpipe emissions. He said communities that use electric buses almost always receive significant amounts of positive publicity.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., where Powell's organization is based, the community has 22 electric buses and now markets the unique buses as part of their tourism efforts.

"I can't tell you how many magazine covers Chattanooga has been on because of it," Powell said. "And we have people who come to town just to ride the buses."


Richard Heckler 11 years, 1 month ago

Pedestrians and cylists would love an electric bus.

lunacydetector 11 years, 1 month ago

"city urged to jump on electric electric bus salesman."

here's some free advice for the city..... stop having buses, nobody rides them. they are a waste of money and they lose money every year.

KS 11 years, 1 month ago

The system is called the "MT" for a reason. - lunacydetector, I agree. Get rid of them. What a waste.

grubesteak 11 years, 1 month ago

"here's some free advice for the city..... stop having buses, nobody rides them. they are a waste of money and they lose money every year."

I ride them. My route is packed every time I ride.

jonas 11 years, 1 month ago

Here, Marion, let me fix this for you.

Posted by Marion (Marion Lynn) on September 7, 2006 at 7:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes; electric busses........... a shocking thought!

Thanks. (I'll be here all week. Try the veal. )


average 11 years, 1 month ago

So, what's with the research dollars and "advanced technology" garbage? This was done and worked perfectly over a hundred years ago. They called 'em "trackless trolleys", "trolleybusses", or the "silent service". Yes, it involves installing overhead wiring. But, trolleybusses can easily run 3/4 of a million miles with virtually no service.

Sigmund 11 years, 1 month ago

The City should quit subsidising the bus company. The bus system should thrive or fail as a private business. Lawrence needs an exit strategy for its bus system. Then if they want to run wind solar hydrogen powered hybrid buses, more power to them!

prioress 11 years, 1 month ago

"The bus system should thrive or fail as a private business." +++ Dangerous thinking; a close analysis of nearly all govt. programs suggests they don't "pay for themselves." As the population ages and fuel prices rise, more folks will ride the buses. America's abandoment of public transit and our addiction to oil and living far from work are hurting our long-term prospects. Whether they are electric or not, a transit system is important. Besides, how will all the underpaid workers who make our lives so easy get to work?

Jerry Stubbs 11 years, 1 month ago

Battery powered machinery doesn't effectively scale up to large devices like Buses. Note that lots of people use little electric screwdrivers, but not so many large power tools are battery powered. Public transport, taxis, vehicles that run all day are better powered by fossil fuel. Commuter vehicles that run a short, consistant trip twice a day could be battery powered. They could be charged all night and plugged in while parked on the job

Rationalanimal 11 years, 1 month ago

Every decision the current fab-5 make are in multiples of 50 million. This has expensive written all over it. Warm up the phone to call old uncle-Visa, or aunt-Mastercard for a credit increase, this one is going on the old-"Municipal Bond Card".

Richard Ballard 11 years, 1 month ago

I noticed an MT bus patrolling the north Iowa street Industrial Park all day Sunday, as usual. Far as I could see, there was not a soul working out there, except the MT bus driver.


If there is nobody there after a few months, park the darn thing and send the driver home!


average 11 years, 1 month ago

rcmodel -

I would have to qualify that as pretty damned odd. The busses don't run at all on Sunday.

Marcus DeMond 11 years, 1 month ago

With the high cost of gas, the fuel savings would cover the 20% higher up-front cost. This is a no brainer. It would be nice to not have to hold my breath when a bus drives by or turn off the air in my car when behind a bus. Those fumes are nasty and I think it's crazy we haven't upgraded to electric already.

grubesteak 11 years, 1 month ago


That's just a stupid statement. If you're going to make an argument, don't do it looking like a fool.

The reason you have to hold your breath has to do more with the hundreds of other automobiles emitting gasses and heat as comparied to the less than 30 busses that are in the city.


davisnin 11 years, 1 month ago

Number one, it seems the KU fleet would be the more likely candidate.

Number two, what 'green' thing does Lawrence do? We don't even recycling anywhere except 'evil' Walmart.

Number three, why isn't the city looking into fuel cell buses and actually getting in on the ground floor of something innovative. Other cities are getting into it and it would probably be cheap in partnership with a tech developer.

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