EV Collaborative Enjoys Quiet Ride With Columbia’s Electric Buses

The Missouri EV Collaborative held its second spring meeting on April 17th at City Hall in Columbia, MO. There was plenty of discussion among municipal fleet and Clean Cities representatives from Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. The VW Settlement, clean fuel corridors and the nuts and bolts of EV charging were all hot topics.

Above – Transit Manager Drew Brooks Lays Out The Layout Of An EV Bus

The really fun part, though, came at the end of the day, when attendees headed out for a test ride on one of nine all-electric transit buses run by the city’s transit authority. GoCOMO now operates nine battery-powered buses, with four more ordered. The bus, California-built but designed by China’s BYD, provided a remarkably quiet ride around town as Parking & Transit Manager Drew Brooks talked about tech, testing and transitioning to EV bus service.

The City runs the buses under a lease-to-own agreement as part of GoCOMO’s budget. Along with local funding, a $1.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration is helping to cover the cost of electrical upgrades, consulting and three of the four EV buses still on order. The cost difference between all-electric buses and conventional models is still substantial, though EV prices are falling. This means that ROI in through fuel savings is very much a long-term proposition. However, there’s one area where the electric buses paid for themselves immediately – maintenance. Normal quarterly maintenance for a diesel bus runs in the neighborhood of $1,300. But an EV bus, without fuel or oil; in fact, lacking nearly all of the moving, greasy parts found in a diesel bus – runs about $300 per maintenance check.

According to Brooks, BYD’s support team engaged well before a single wheel turned in mid-Missouri. Along with background information on local weather and passenger counts, route mapping was vital to the rollout.   This included special attention to the maximum grades on each route. This information was then programmed into the computer on each bus before delivery to cut the odds of running out of juice. Although different drivers can and do make a difference with how many miles a given bus can run between charges, range hasn’t really been a serious issue.

Above – Drew takes questions on the road; on right, KCMO Sustainability Coordinator Gerry Shechter.

One notable physical difference during our drive around town – the lack of noise, something that’s made the EV buses popular among riders. Drew stood up front, taking questions in a voice just slightly louder than normal conversational tone, something that would be impossible in a diesel bus. There may have been 75 horses tied to each rear axle, but you couldn’t really tell from the passenger seat.