Electric bus

Metro Transit is planning to purchase three battery-electric buses in 2019.

Proterra

The era of electric buses in Madison has begun.

Metro Transit has been awarded $1.3 million in federal funding to help buy three battery-powered buses in 2019, the next step in reducing the bus system’s carbon footprint and the first step in reaching Mayor Paul Soglin’s goal of making half the city’s buses battery-powered by 2035.

The buses would come from Proterra, a company that has sold more than 400 zero-emission buses to 38 bus systems in 20 states.

Each of the 40-foot Catalyst buses costs about $667,000, for a total cost of $2 million for the first three.

The Federal Transit Administration Low or No-Emission Vehicle Program is awarding $55 million a year to municipalities and bus system agencies that are interested in using advanced fuel technologies.

The city has also budgeted $1.5 million to the project, or what three diesel-powered buses would cost, bringing the total funding for the project up to $2.8 million.

The costs above and beyond the base price for the buses include chargers and design changes at the bus depot, project management and technical assistance from the Center for Transportation and the Environment.

“Metro was the first transit system in Wisconsin to introduce hybrid-electric buses,” said general manager Chuck Kamp. “We also use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, and our facility runs on 37 percent green power. We are excited to take this next step in our use of clean energy.”

The Proterra Catalyst bus can run 350 miles on a single charge and costs only 16 cents a mile to operate, compared to 63 cents a mile for hybrid-electric buses, 74 cents a mile for compressed natural gas buses and 84 cents a mile for standard diesel buses.

The buses are practically noiseless when idling, and operate at a noise level quieter than normal conversation.

The buses are expected to be in the Metro Transit mix by September 2019.

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Bill Novak is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.