Electric buses are heading for Grand Boulevard Metro route

Electric buses are heading for Grand Boulevard Metro route

ST. LOUIS – In a little more than a year, some travelers on the busiest route in the area’s bus system will have quieter and smoother rides than they ever got on diesel-powered buses.

Better than that, emissions from the 14 new electric-powered buses will be less than from the smoke-belching diesel engines now in use on the No. 70 Grand route along Grand Boulevard. 

If the system works, the Bi-State Development Agency, which operates the Metro mass transit system, will replace its 400 or so diesel-powered buses with electric buses as the older vehicles wear out. The agency replaces 1/15th of its buses a year, said Jerry Vallely, external communications manager for Bi-State.

Vallely didn’t have information about how the transition might specifically reduce Bi-State’s emissions. But the blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that diesel-powered buses generally produce 250 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions as battery electric buses, from the average of the U.S. grid. 

“We want to create a transit system that is financially sustainable and also environmentally sustainable and gives our customers a smooth, quiet ride that electric buses provide,” Vallely said. 

The Bi-State Board of Commissioners took the first step on Nov. 22, when it approved the purchase of 14 battery-powered elongated buses from a Canadian company called New Flyer. The buses cost about $1.3 million each, or a total of $18.2 million, substantially more than diesel buses.

“Typically, an electric bus costs 30-50 percent more than a diesel bus,” Vallely said. It typically stays on the road for 15 years. 

“You pay more up front, but you save more over the life of the vehicle,” he said. 

The new “articulated” buses are 60 feet long instead of the typical 35- or 40-foot-long buses. To enable them to turn around corners, they have a front and a back section and a middle that bends like an accordion.

“It just makes sense to put the largest capacity buses on the Grand [route],” Vallely said.   

A down side is that the buses won’t run on Grand until 2021.

While part of the reason for the delay is the time needed to manufacture the buses, a second is that that’s how long it will take to provide electricity to plug them in.

Plans are for the buses to go to a charging area at the Brentwood Metro Garage at 3000 S. Brentwood Blvd., after the last service run ends at 1 a.m. By the time the buses head out again at 4 a.m., they will have gotten enough of a charge for about 200 miles.

They’ll start at the Loughborough Commons Shopping Center near Loughborough Avenue and Interstate 55, and eventually arrive at the North Broadway Transit Center at North Broadway and Taylor Avenue. There, during a 15-minute layover, the buses will receive enough extra charges to keep going until they’re back at the end of the day.

As much as the buses help the environment, Vallely said, “It had to be as good as the normal diesel buses we have today.”

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