Chicago adapts electric buses to winter challenges. WGN Radio 720

CHICAGO (AP) — Bus 66 was packed on a recent weekday afternoon as it departed from near Chicago on its way along the shores of Lake Michigan to Navy Pier.

The seats and windows creak like a typical diesel bus, but no one seems to notice the screeching of the electric motor that powers the bus.

That’s exactly what the Chicago Transit Authority wants. A bus that doesn’t pollute the air can run routes with the same reliability when cold weather cuts into battery range.

But CTA had to spend a lot of effort and money to make the electric bus work. Rapid charging stations were constructed at both ends of Route 66, which plugs into the roof of the bus.

Drivers constantly monitor their batteries to make sure they are not drained and risk stranded buses. If the charge drops below 50% he should be charged with a charger.

said Don Hargrove, senior maintenance manager at the garage where most of the agency’s 23 electric buses are located.

The CTA began experimenting with electric buses in 2014 and has developed a system that Hargrove says will work as transportation authorities transition to all-electric buses by 2040.

Other transportation systems are going through the same process to reduce pollution and combat climate change.

Cold weather is CTA’s biggest problem. As temperatures drop, the lithium-ion batteries that power buses become less efficient and range is lost. Most of the energy drained from the battery is used to keep the bus interior at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).

“Every time the bus stops to pick up a passenger, we unload the passenger and open the door,” says Assistant Chief Bus Equipment Engineer Richard Lynn. “We need to heat up that new batch of cold air.”

The electric bus has a small diesel engine that heats the interior at extreme temperatures to extend the range of the battery, Lin said. But most of the time, buses use electric coil heaters, similar to giant toasters, which can drain your battery. A more efficient heat pump was not an option when CTA purchased the bus, he said.

For every 10 miles traveled one way on Route 66, an electric bus loses about 8% of its battery energy. In winter, it starts with a range of about 100 miles when fully charged. So it is stipulated that after about 6 one-way trips, the driver must charge if he falls below 50% of his.

Schedules typically include 10-15 minutes of charging time, with the bus charging about 1% of its full charge for every minute it is connected to a power source.

With enough chargers, electric buses can run all routes, Lin said. “It’s a matter of our strategy to have chargers in the right places and to have enough chargers available as we expand our fleet.”

Currently, CTA has approximately 1,900 buses, most of which run on diesel fuel. Transportation systems are starting to convert them to electricity, but the investment is huge. An electric bus costs about $1.1 million per his, about $500,000 more than a diesel model.

However, after the initial capital expenditure of buses and charging stations, the operating costs of electric buses are much lower. CTA calculates that it costs $2.01 per mile to run a 40-foot-long electric bus. Diesel buses are $3.08 and diesel-electric hybrids are $2.63 per mile.

It will take decades for authorities to recoup their investment in electric buses, but CTA officials say the cost of electric buses will fall as sales rise.

Juneau, Alaska’s capital, has a mild climate, but winter temperatures can still drop below freezing, and officials are also planning an all-electric bus, but the buses introduced in 2020 are suffering from mechanical problems. I was annoyed.

Starting in 2010, Capital City Transit has ordered seven electric buses to replace diesel models, says operations director Rich Ross. The new buses are expected to run on regular routes due to increased battery capacity that was “not available when the first buses were ordered.”

Cold winter conditions can deviate as much as 100 miles from the expected range of 282 miles for new buses, so on the coldest days, buses are placed on commuter routes that only operate during peak transit hours. You can, says Ross.

Similar to Chicago, Capital City Transit also plans to build “en route” charging stations to plug in if buses run low.

Back on Chicago’s No. 66, Dawn Carter, 54, is happy that electric buses are running the route. Because electric buses are good for the environment.

The only difference is that electric buses are quieter than those with rumbling diesel engines and noisy heaters, but most people don’t realize it, she says. “When I come to work, people rush in and out,” she says. “It’s quieter. It makes it easier to talk to people. When the fever goes up and down, you hardly notice it.”


AP reporter Becky Bohrer of Juneau, Alaska and video journalist Teresa Crawford of Chicago contributed to this article.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiatives here. AP is solely responsible for all content. Chicago adapts electric buses to winter challenges. WGN Radio 720

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