A joint effort by GoTriangle, GoRaleigh, GoCary and Chapel Hill Transit to secure a federal grant to help buy seven electric buses has received the support of North Carolina’s U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr.

Each senator has written a letter to Federal Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao backing the federal Low or No Emission Competitive Grant application that the agencies submitted together in June. The grant program provides federal money to state and local governmental authorities so they can buy or lease zero-emission and low-emission transit buses.

“Improved transportation and related infrastructure throughout North Carolina and across the country are critical to our quality of life, job growth, sustainability and enhanced safety,” the letter from Tillis said. “GoTransit intends to utilize grant funding to accelerate the implementation of battery-electric buses throughout the Raleigh-Durham-Cary metro area. Wake, Durham and Orange counties are committed to supporting construction of five bus rapid transit corridors and complementary rail investments across the region during the next ten years, creating a lower-emission regional transit system.”

The agencies decided to pursue the grant together in response to questions from residents about whether any consideration had been given during the finalization of transit plans in Wake, Durham and Orange counties to buying electric buses to cut down on the need for fossil fuels.

The federal grant would cover nearly 50 percent of the $6.8 million cost of buying two electric buses each for GoRaleigh, GoTriangle and Chapel Hill Transit and one for GoCary.

The agencies plan to buy the buses from Proterra, whose East Coast manufacturing is based in South Carolina. The company touts that 75 percent of the bus components it uses are made in 34 states.

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to announce grant winners in September. If the Triangle area agencies are successful, Proterra estimates it could deliver the first bus by December 2018.

Proterra’s 40-foot electric bus costs about $980,000, including charging stations and other needed equipment. That’s about twice the cost of a diesel bus, but electric buses produce no tailpipe emissions and are less expensive to operate, traveling 21.4 mpg-equivalent at 19 cents a mile. By comparison, a diesel bus gets 3.86 mpg at 84 cents per mile.

That efficiency means the operating cost over the life span of an electric bus is $250,000 to $400,000 less than a diesel bus.

“We are pleased to have the support of our senators as our agencies work together to try to offer our residents the electric buses they asked for in both local and regional service,” said Jeff Mann, GoTriangle general manager. “Our senators recognize that as more and more people move to the Triangle, a well-rounded and efficient public transit system will become even more important to maintaining the high quality of life we all enjoy.”

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