Fifteen percent of the bus fleet that serves Baton Rouge and Baker is now electric, and more zero-emission vehicles are on the way.
The Capital Area Transit System aims to transition half of its 62-bus fleet to electric. With the arrival of three new electric buses in late June, bringing the total to nine, the system is on course to reach that goal in five years, according to the agency.
The agency says the electric buses create a more reliable service for riders. By increasing the number of zero-emissions vehicles, CATS’ carbon output is reduced, making the agency more environmentally friendly, the agency said.
“We care about reducing emissions and protecting the environment. The more electric vehicles we have, the better it will be for all of us,” interim CEO Dwana Williams said in a statement.
The nine buses cost the agency $6.8 million, 85% of which was paid for using grant money from the U.S. Federal Transit Administration’s Low or No Emission Grant Program, Wallace said.
The electric buses are 35 feet long and use a battery with a range of 200 miles that can fully charge in three hours, according to a news release from supplier BYD Motors. Each bus can seat 32 passengers, and another 28 people can stand in the bus, according to the news release.
Williams noted the smoother, quieter ride the buses provide.
CATS’ 53 other buses run on diesel fuel, Wallace said.
While the agency is transitioning half of its fleet to electric, the other 50% will remain diesel to allow for the agency to assist with hurricane evacuations, Wallace said. Electric vehicle charging stations aren’t as reliable as places to refuel as diesel, something that could inhibit evacuations from the coast in the event of a hurricane, Wallace said.
The arrival of more electric buses also progresses a five-year effort from CATS to reduce the age of its bus fleet.
Standard industry practice is to retire a bus after 12 years, according to the Federal Transit Administration. In 2016, the average age of the CATS fleet was 11.9 years old.
Since then, the agency has purchased roughly 12 buses a year to gradually replace the aging fleet, including the electric buses.
The average age of the bus fleet is currently 6½, Wallace said.
More bus purchases are on horizon, much of which the agency hopes to fund through grants.
CATS received just under $1.2 million in federal grants during June for route planning and studying ways to expand CATS’ service in Baton Rouge.
Along with more electric buses, the agency in June launched Lynx in Baker, a public transportation service that operates similarly to ride-hailing services. CATS plans to expand the service to other parts of its service area if it's successful in Baker.