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Pilot Program Will Send Electric Buses Down Charlotte Streets In 2022

Charlotte Douglas International Airport has started using electric shuttle buses.
Jessie Steinmetz
Charlotte Douglas International Airport has started using electric shuttle buses, now CATS will test electric buses in 2022.

The Charlotte City Council gave the Charlotte Area Transit System the green light to buy 18 electric buses and equipment.

CATS will launch a 12- to 18-month pilot program with help from the Duke Energy subsidiary eTransEnergy, it said in a news release. Part of the testing will be to see how long the buses stay charged; there will also be workforce training.

“We are excited to have developed a blueprint for public-private partnership with CATS to first pilot, then move to full-scale transit fleet electrification,” said Greg Fields, vice president of eTransEnergy.

The City Council approved $23 million dollars on Monday for the purchase.

It’s part of CATS’ plan to transition over to an entirely electric fleet in ten years. Right now, CATS is running about 300 diesel and hybrid diesel-electric buses, which costs about $6.5 million a year for diesel fuel. Running a fleet of electric buses could cut that expense, although it’s not clear how much would be saved after factoring in electricity costs.

Shannon Binns is executive director of the environmental group Sustain Charlotte, which has lobbied the council for a more environmentally friendly transportation system.

"We are thrilled by the approval and the serious beginning of a transition, hopefully a full transition, as soon as possible to a fully electrified bus fleet," Binns said.

To fight climate change, the City of Charlotte City is aiming to eliminate carbon emissions from city-owned vehicles and buildings by 2030.

"They've really started to align their policy decisions with their own low-carbon climate goals," Binns said. "So I think, between the community asking for this, and the city's own climate goals, I think the stars have aligned."

While the pilot program is a start, Binns said CATS will need to find more money to keep buying electric buses to replace its entire 300-bus fleet.

"This is one of many investments, transportation investments, that we need in our county," he said. "And we're not going to be able to make this transition quickly without some additional source of funding."

The electric buses are expected to arrive at the end of the year with testing scheduled for early 2022.

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Catherine Welch is Assistant News Director at WFAE. She has led newsrooms at KUNC in Greely, CO, Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence, RI and WHQR in Wilmington, NC.
David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.