$3.75M federal grant will help City of Lawrence purchase its first zero-emission buses

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

A Lawrence transit rider boards a bus on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, downtown at Seventh and Vermont streets.

Lawrence transit officials say a federal grant to purchase the city’s first fully electric buses is a step in the right direction for the city’s sustainability goals and for eventually converting the city’s fleet of diesel buses.

The Federal Transit Administration has awarded the city a $3.75 million federal grant to purchase zero- or low-emission buses. Transit and Parking Manager Adam Weigel said the grant, which requires a local match of $2.2 million, would enable the city to replace five diesel buses with zero-emission electric buses, purchase charging stations and work with the nonprofit Center for Transportation and the Environment to plan and evaluate the program.

“I know there’s obviously been a lot of interest from the community and the City Commission to have cleaner municipal operations, and I think this really springboards us toward that goal,” Weigel said.

Weigel said he saw the grant as a first step in what would be a long process to convert the city’s diesel fleet to zero-emission buses, as the typical life span of a bus is about 14 years. He said the city currently had a maximum of 15 buses running at one time, as well a few backup buses for contingencies. All of those buses are diesel apart from three diesel-electric hybrids, which use an electric battery until the bus reaches 25 mph, at which point the diesel engine kicks in.

Regarding the $2.2 million city match, Weigel said the city budgeted a certain amount of money for vehicle replacement and that the matching funds would be part of the transit department’s recommended budget for next year. When factoring in the federal grant funds, Weigel said the city would actually end up spending less than it would have to replace the five diesel buses, which have exceeded their useful life.

“We would have spent a little more money and not reaped any of the benefits of the new cleaner technology,” Weigel said. He noted that in addition to having no emissions, the electric buses are also quieter than the diesel buses.

The FTA’s Low- or No-Emission Grant program funds the purchase or lease of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses and supporting facilities, according to a city news release. The City of Lawrence coordinates its bus service with the University of Kansas, and the city and KU had to submit an application to be considered for the grant. Forty-one projects in 40 states and the District of Columbia received funding through the program this year.

Weigel said the five electric buses would probably not be put into service until 2022. He said the process included getting vendor contracts in place and designing and determining the layout and technology for the buses, which are built to order.


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