SEPTA goes electric with 25 new ‘battery buses’

A SEPTA bus is parked in a parking lot, with a blue sky overhead.

One of SEPTA's electric buses. (Darryl Murphy/WHYY)

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

SEPTA is driving into the future with a smaller carbon footprint.

A new fleet of 25 electric buses hit Philadelphia streets this week and more are to come in the next year. If all goes well, the entire fleet could eventually run on batteries, making gas tanks a thing of the past for city buses.

“First we made the jump to hybrid,” Knueppel said. “Now, we’ll see if we make the jump to all electric or battery buses.”

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The move towards electric puts Philly ahead of other cities on the race to green city transit systems.

Philly runs the largest zero-emission bus fleet on the East Coast, SEPTA says.

The 25 new buses cost $24 million, and were paid in part with a $2.6 million federal grant. Each battery-powered bus cost $150,000 more than a electric-hybrid model, but they require less maintenance, which will save money in the long-term.

“There’s a lot less moving parts on an electric bus than there is on an internal combustion engine,“ he said.

Getting to this point was a learning process for SEPTA. The electric buses were expected for 2017, but Erik Johanson, director of innovation for SEPTA, says they hit a snag. The initial model ordered required charging stations on the street.

SEPTA called an audible and paid $400,000 more to order electric buses that could be charged at the depot. The upgrade meant paying more for buses in order to save on street infrastructure, says Johanson.

The new buses can provide a full day of service on a single charge. Powering up takes up to seven hours.

The new fleet will serve South Philly riders along routes 29 and 79.

SEPTA says 10 more buses are coming for the Midvale district in North Philadelphia in 2020, for use in 2021.

“We’re being aggressive because we’re very interested in what this technology can do for us, Johanson said.

The buses will serve South Philly riders along routes 29 and 79.

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