SEPTA Wins Big Grant to Buy 25 Zero-Emission All-Electric Buses

The agency will receive $2.6 million from the Federal Transit Administration for the buses. They will replace trackless trolleys on two routes in South Philadelphia.

Photo | Proterra

Photo | Proterra

U.S. Senator Robert Casey announced Tuesday that SEPTA will receive a $2.6 million grant to purchase 25 electric buses.

The buses will serve South Philly routes 29 and 79. The two routes had previously operated with trackless trolleys up until 2002, said Richard Burnfield, SEPTA’s Deputy General Manager. At that point the trolleys were over 20 years old and had to be taken out of operation. They then switched over to bus operations. 

Trackless Trolley | Wikimedia Commons

SEPTA Trackless Trolley | Wikimedia Commons

Trackless trolleys, while fully electric, differ from the buses in the way they are powered. The trolleys are connected to overhead wire systems that power them — much like traditional trolleys. The buses, however, will not be wired and will instead recharge at stations at the end of their routes. “Essentially they get zapped,” said Erik Johanson, SEPTA’s Director of Business Innovation. He added that recharging will take only 10 minutes.

Johanson and Burnield said that SEPTA is the first in the country to have an energy-efficient mass transit system of this scale; currently SEPTA has over 700 hybrid buses and a fully electric rail system. Not only will the zero-emission electric buses add to the agency’s sustainability mission, but Johanson also said they are also an economically savvy move.

While the Proterra Catalyst Zero Emission buses are more expensive than the hybrid-electric buses they currently employ, the grant covers that cost, said Johanson. In addition, says Johanson, they are 30 percent cheaper than the trackless trolleys. The buses also have the added benefit of being able to easily switch routes.

SEPTA was one of seven agencies chosen to receive part of the $22.5 million grant offered by the Federal Transit Administration as part of their Low or No-Emission Vehicle Deployment Program.

The program was designed to promote the usage of clean and energy-efficient U.S. transit and reduce carbon emissions, said Jacklin Rhoads, Casey’s press secretary.

Casey has been advocating for SEPTA to receive the grant. He said he continue invest in infrastructure for the Commonwealth.

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