MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Mountain Line Transit Authority will test three liquid propane buses this year at a cost of about $500,000, according to CEO Dave Bruffy.
Bruffy decided on liquid propane after a site visit to Missoula, Montana, and a survey of their electric bus program.
Bruffy said cost was one of the first issues. Since the pandemic, the cost of all goods has skyrocketed, but the cost of the new technology in electric vehicles and operational limitations make an electric bus a bad choice for this area.
“The cost is about 3 to 1, so for every diesel-engine bus you can buy, you’re going to have to spend three times as much because you need two electric buses; they don’t have the range without being charged,” Bruffy said.
In Missoula, officials had a goal of going all electric by 2025, and by 2021, 40 percent of the fleet was electric. Bruffy said in Montana, buses were outfitted with diesel-fueled heaters because the batteries could not handle the load. Bruffy also had concerns about the life of the electric bus as compared to its diesel counterpart.
“The batteries lose effectiveness in the colder weather,” Bruffy said. “They have a half-life of about six years, and the buses we buy are required to be kept for at least 12 years, so we have a major expense in the future.”
Electric vehicle technology is still very much in development, and many new concerns are identified as the buses gain more road miles. Many mechanical issues are solved by the experiences of others, but many electric bus operators find themselves the first to experience or solve an issue.
“Poor tires wear because they’re so much heavier,” Bruffy said. “There is no extensive maintenance history, so there is no transit system you can call and ask about a problem because they have not experienced it yet.”
Building infrastructure is another major issue for Bruffy and the Mountain Line Transit Authority garage in Westover. First, the electrical infrastructure would require a major upgrade to support charging operations. Next, rates for electricity are negotiated with power companies based on peak, off-peak, and total use projections.
“We have a water sprinkler, and we have a sprinkler system in our garage, and a water sprinkled system will not put out an electric bus fire,” Bruffy said. “There have been a couple facilities that have been lost because of an electric bus fire.”
The door is not completely closed on electric buses in the Morgantown area. But, until some power, cost, and comfort issues are addressed with electric vehicles, the Mountain Line Transit Authority will proceed with a test of the three liquid propane buses this year.
“The technology has gotten better, but it’s still not to the point that you can run those vehicles on our terrain and run the heater on them—that’s another issue,” Bruffy said.