CBJ may switch to a different electric bus manufacturer

    Photo by Anna Frazier

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Juneau's electric Capital Transit bus had a bit of trouble late last year and is facing more difficulty with the cold weather and the city and borough is working to address that difficulty.

    CBJ Engineering and Public Works Director Katie Koester said ordered just one Proterra bus in order to test it out.  "And boy, it has certainly been put through the wringer.

    She said it was out of commission from a little after Thanksgiving until the first of the year.  "It was just really difficult for Proterra to fix it.  It ended up being a bad wiring harness that they were able to patch so the bus is back in service now."

    It was running on a charge of close to six hours in the summer, but the cold weather has reduced its charge to five hours.  "The cold weather is definitely affecting the efficiency of the bus and how many miles we're able to get out of it."  

    She said part of that is when braking, called regenerative braking, where the battery is actually charged when you're braking.  "The icy roads really reduce the benefits of regenerative braking."

    In addition, other challenges included dealing with the spray from icy roads and keeping visibility clear.  

    In order to deal with the cold weather concern, Koester said they are looking at placing some quick-charging stations along the route so that a full-service day can be achieved.  

    Koester said they are looking at changing manufacturers.  "We actually purchased Gillig buses for our diesel buses and they have an electric bus and it's 80 percent the same as our diesel buses so our mechanics are really use to those buses."  

    She adds that staff has traveled to the plant in Missoula, Montana, where they run the Gillig buses.  "Montana is a lot more similar climate than Southern California is to Juneau and so  they've had a lot of success in those  colder climates with the Gillig buses."  Proterra's plant is in California.  So Koester says they are looking at switching vendors to see if that product works better in Juneau.  

    Juneau has grant funding for seven more electric buses.  The fleet size is eighteen and the goal is to eventually electrify the entire fleet.  

    Koester says the technology is improving quickly.  While she thinks they need to be cautious and take an incremental approach to experiment with the different technologies, she's confident the technology will eventually get there.



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