Electric slide: Juneau’s electric bus turned out to be a lemon in winter weather

70
580

Juneau’s Capital Transit, which premiered the first electric bus in the 49th state less than a year ago, has found the bus can’t run an entire route during cold weather. And Juneau has had a lot of cold weather this year.

Capital Transit operates a fleet of 18 buses, including 17 diesel Gillig buses and one Proterra electric bus. It also has six support vehicles, three of which are electric, said Katie Koester, Juneau’s Public Works and Engineering director.

Capital Transit purchased and put one electric bus into service in April 2021. The bus has had a number of mechanical problems requiring it to be removed from service several times.

Most recently it was out for an approximately 6-week period from around Thanksgiving to after New Year’s Day due to powertrain problems and wiring that was breaking.

“After three visits from the out of town Proterra field service tech, they figured out the problem was a powertrain wiring harness that had rubbed on the body of the bus causing some wires to break. Proterra could not supply a replacement wiring harness so the damaged harness had to be repaired to return the bus to service,” Koester wrote in a memo to the CBJ Public Works Committee.

In addition, there are several other issues that, while they don’t prevent the bus from operating, need to be resolved, including problems with windshield wiper motors, and water spray impairing visibility. But it’s the battery life that is the real problem, both summer and winter.

“The bus was expected to have a battery range of 210 miles which is roughly 10 hours on a bus route. In practice, the bus has only exhibited a range of 170 miles or 8 hours on a route during ideal summer weather conditions. During cooler fall weather the range was reduced to 150 miles or 6 hours on route and approximately 120 miles (or 5 hours) in January,” she wrote.

That means the electric bus has to be plugged in before it can complete a full 8-hour shift. It also has a wider turning radius, so cannot work all of the routes in Juneau.

“We will be watching closely to see how much mileage the bus gets during the rest of the winter. Lastly, the rest of the Capital Transit bus fleet is comprised of 35 foot diesel buses manufactured by Gillig. The 40 foot Proterra bus cannot run all of the existing routes due to both limited range as well as a wider turn radius. Therefore, the electric bus mostly runs the Commuter Routes between the Valley and Downtown and is unable to service Douglas,” she wrote. Douglas is the island to the south of Juneau, where many people live who take the bus to work.

Capital Transit’s fleet drives 54,725 miles per month. In the last 10 years, Capital Transit has provided over 11. million rides. Ridership decreased due to Covid‐19, lack of seasonal workers, and fewer capital city visitors, but the use of public transportation is on the rise again, Koester noted.

The Proterra bus was purchased using funding from the a federal grant for low-emissions upgrades in public transportation, along with matching funds from the Volkswagen Settlement Fund.

According to a study by the nonprofit Center for Transportation and the Environment and its university partners, a change of ambient temperature from 50-60°F to 22-32°F might result in a 38 percent decrease in the range of all-electric buses. A summary of the study is at this link.

70 COMMENTS

  1. Electric vehicles in the North will not work under normal winter conditions. More idiocy from woke, environmental quacks.

    • Electric vehicles work great. Another partisan loyal to identity politics chirps and falls flat. You know what doesn’t work in the summer in Alaska? Snowmachines! Guess that means they don’t work at all.

      • Well John you should go buy a bus and plug it in you sure don’t know much about electric vehicles or how electricity works

      • John Seymour, of course Electic Vehicles work, especially if you have cheap power like Southeast does. Trouble is John, that since the batteries need to be kept warm in cold climates and drivers need defrosted windows, well, battery life is greatly diminished.
        Perhaps shorter routes and or open cock pit driving will help augment this problem? Surely passengers would understand that freezing their collective butts off is saving the planet from climate change.

        • Most things don’t work at 100% efficiency in cold weather. To say the product is junk because of that is just stupid. Let the industry decide and stick to intelligent conversations on mustread. Where you can feel in control.

          • It looks as though the decision has been made…..BTW, Public transport operated by a municipality is not ‘industry’

      • Nonsense Jay. The bus is a new technology and is working out the kinks. Should we return to horse and buggey because cars have safety recalls? Get a grip

    • Do you understand that these buses have failed all across the nation? They melt in California, catch fire break down, whole fleets have been taken out of service. Skim-scammers at work. Your “pilot project” contributes to wealth inequity.

  2. Fascinating. Some policymakers in Juneau actually think that this was free money.

    Katie Koester, head of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Engineering and Public Works Department “said the bus and its charging station totaled nearly a million dollars. It was covered by the Federal Transit Administration’s Low- or No-Emission (Low-No) Grant Program and from the $8.125 million that was Alaska’s share of the Volkswagen Settlement Fund. That was after the automaker got caught installing software to cheat on diesel emissions.”

    The federal government’s faux environmental policies, regulations and statutes have created an economic maelstrom flushing the public’s money down the toilet accomplishing marginal ecological improvement while driving inflation into every facet of America’s economic system.

    It is time to start taxing government.

    Children now adults blinded by Captain Planet don’t have a clue on the destruction they’re perpetuating.

  3. I can’t wait to have everything electric…when it makes sense. At this point the batteries aren’t there yet.

    • Yea the Fairbanks working class just can’t wait to get out of work after hitting that remote start. Jump into there nice toasty electric auto.
      Oh wait…….. never mind.

    • That will never happen, ERAK, nor should it, nor would it make any sense. The national electrical grid would have to be, hypothetically, not only rebuilt, but vastly expanded, at a cost of many trillions of dollars, and still with vast inefficiencies inherent in such a move.
      .
      Electrical vehicles are just the latest in a long line of scientifically and economically ignorant fads, and will NEVER replace the current gasoline and diesel fleets, because they cannot. Once fossil fuels become depleted enough to effectively prohibit widespread personal vehicle use, that will be the end of widespread personal vehicle use, period (and also the end of civilization as we know it).

      • Crikey! Have you been a cynical pessimistic defeatist all your life? How do you get anything done?

        It’s like you have absolutely no understanding of how much cheaper solar and energy storage have already become and how much cheaper they will continue to become over the next 10 years. Do you know that already 40% of the US electricity generation is from non-fossil sources?

        At least 80% of personal vehicles sold in 2030 will be battery electric for sure. The transition has started and is completely inevitable. Investigate what is happening in Europe and China (China being the largest car market in the world), and you will discover that what you think is “impossible” is already well under way outside of the US.

        • Harry, you are out in la la land, and utterly ignorant of the material and resource costs that any hypothetical (and it could only be hypothetical) electrification of the US passenger and commercial vehicles fleets. You are literally insane if you believe the pie-in-the-sky and divorced-from-reality nonsense that you are spouting here.

      • Electric vehicles have been around since the 1800’s, not exactly a fad. The electric grid is always being replaced and updated. We won’t all be driving electric vehicles in 8 years, but in 80 years all but the richest will.
        .
        It doesn’t matter where the electrons come from if they can charge a battery. In 20 years our electric grid and modes of transportation will be much different from where we are today. Chances are, worldwide, we will be burning more natural gas to provide reliable energy and charge batteries (both large and small) while smaller wind, solar, and other “renewable” installations are distributed closer to the end user.
        .
        Peak oil died years ago, we’ve found too much and the gradual decades long glideslope will ensure the taps won’t just turn off one day.

  4. I believe Anchorage tried the electric buses that were funded by the feds about 5 (?) years ago. I predicted they would be a failure back then both mechanically and economically. I never heard the result of that endeavour.
    Inquiring minds would like to know!

    • I wonder the same thing. A whole lot of hush hush surrounding that debacle.
      There’s so few people on the MTA in Anchorage , we would be millions ahead to use the money to pay for Uber vouchers.

  5. Good thing this is Alaska, we’ll buy 20 more please. I would like to add an order of fast ferries on the side and a government jet for dessert.

  6. Ah but that bus so so Earth-Friendly when it’s parked! We must give thanks that is such a useful tool in teaching people to walk more.

  7. I’m shocked! Do these results suggest that every electrical engineer, automotive technician, diesel mechanic and 8th grade physics student in Juneau was right, and already knew what the Mayor, City Manager and every member of the CBJ Assembly didn’t know, that batteries don’t perform well in cold weather? Maybe, our local governing body should start consulting people who know what they’re talking about before spending millions of dollars of public funds on pipe dreams?

    • That’ll never happen…..Remember the Parking meter fiasco? Remember Bruce Botheo’s new capitol Pipe dream?

  8. At least in winter there should be less of a chance the bus will catch fire. Speaking of catching fire, how’s Secretary Granholm’s portfolio doing?

  9. If you were a democrat megadonor, this is how you get your money back. By investing in a company that sells overpriced junk buses for taxpayers money. It was a federal grant, right? Timing is everything, though.

  10. One of the biggest draws on the battery will be heaters used to keep the wide open cabin spaces warm, what with doors opening and closing frequently. They could always install a propane heater or wood stove to offset the offsetting of carbon emissions from a diesel engine!

  11. Vote early and vote often to save Juneau!

    If we lose Lisa’s seniority there will be no million dollar grant in the next omnibus spending bill to retrofit the bus with EPA approved cash burning furnaces to help warm the batteries.

    Tshibaka just doesn’t know what it takes to invest in Alaskas future like Lisa does.

  12. If use of public transportation is on the increase, as city officials claim, it’s because the Glory Hole, Juneau’s soup kitchen, was moved to the airport area in order to have cruise ship passengers see fewer bums. Bums ride for free in Juneau, and they transit between downtown and the Glory Hole. In Juneau, people who drive BMWs use the heavily-subsidized city ski resort. People who drive electric cars use the two heavily subsidized city indoor swimming pools. Bums eat for free and ride the bus for free, and of course that too is heavily subsidized, and they get free housing. And the city made a grant to drag queens. Drag queen lessons is the name of the grant. That is what your capital city has become.

  13. What are the operational costs per mile compared to ICE buses? Surely there are maintenance costs such as oil changes, filters etc that you do not have on the Proterra.

  14. Absolutely LOVE THIS!! Electric may work in cities that never see winter.. But they will not work up in Alaska where it is very cold 5-6 months of the year. Another idea from the idiot woke that failed…. Imagine that! All these “electric” pick ups are useless when it’s cold. So are buses!

    • It’s just another typical top-down, “one size fits all” radical leftist nostrum that is divorced from all reality. Oh, and did I mention that ALL of these radical leftist policy prescriptions are totally divorced from reality? Aside from all that, I can never understand why every radical leftist cannot grasp that their statist and coercive policies are invariably divorced from reality.

  15. I am so glad this was brought to light. I actually read the article in the leftwing Juneau Empire. I just love this…the weather was too cold for the batteries to operate properly, and, the windshield wipers failed. But, according to Katie Koester, these buses fit Juneau and they want to buy more. Hmmm, bad cold weather performance and no windshield wipers, just perfect for Juneau. Who is Proterra? I’ll be Nancy Pelosi and her husband own stock. They can park this bus next to the failed Forest Service electric vehicles that failed after just a few months, they went back to Chevy S-10s.

    • Yes, because we all know it’s impossible to repair faulty windshield wipers, and it’s impossible to install larger batteries in the buses, and it’s impossible to install overhead chargers along the route to top up the batteries during the working day.

      Out of interest, what’s your plan for transportation when oil runs out?

      • When “oil runs out” (a grossly simplistic concept, by the way), there will be no ‘solutions’ or practical replacements, Harry — our civilization will just collapse, and that will be that.

          • John, you can’t recognize that our civilization IS dependent on fossil fuels? That is the dumbest claim that you’ve had yet — and you never fail to have them.

          • Well, finally something that Jefferson and I agree on! It is more than a little nutty to suggest that CURRENTLY, modern urban society is not dependent on oil. Certainly, if supply got switched off tomorrow, society would collapse – that is a 100% certainty.

            However, what Jefferson is refusing to acknowledge, is that a transition is well underway, and the world will ween itself off this dependency. I would like to clarify that when I say that 80% of passenger vehicles will be battery electric by 2030, I meant that that will be the “market share” of newly-purchased vehicles. It’ll probably take another 10 to 15 years after that to transition the installed base.

          • What you meant to say was that our current society is dependent on oil. Civilization is not. It’s been around since before oil was discovered. It would be great if you could command a better grasp of English so you don’t have to pout everytime I make a correction at your expense.

  16. This comment thread is exceptionally depressing; why do people delight in being so cynical and defeatist? Further, it is not clear to me why people think that giving a damn about the environment is “woke”, or indeed why people seem to have such contempt for the idea of giving a damn about the environment.

    Even if you don’t believe in anthropomorphic climate change (and by the way, facts don’t care about your feelings, and even if you don’t want to believe it, that doesn’t stop it being true), it is still a fact that oil will run out one day, and that burning it in the middle of cities where it produces fumes and particulates that cause all manner of health problems, including but not limited to cancer and dementia, is unbelievably stupid. By 2030, you can be sure that at least 80% of the worldwide car market will be 100% battery electric, and by 2040 (if not much sooner) diesel will be prohibitively expensive to use for public transit. Indeed the running costs of this electric bus are certain already to be considerably lower than the diesels. So, the sooner the city can figure out how to make a success of electric transit buses, the better.

    Whilst it is not acceptable that such an expensive and low-volume product should be suffering mechanical issues so soon after delivery, the problems with this bus hardly sound insurmountable. The bus clearly should have been purchased with its larger battery option, and overhead chargers possibly need to be installed at locations around the route so that it can top up during the working day.

      • Interesting that you think you can determine my political leanings because I’m an optimist and believe in the reality of human ingenuity. Why don’t you try being less of a cynic; you might enjoy life a bit more.

        As it happens I’m a centrist and if I lived in the US I wouldn’t know who to vote for because both options are deeply flawed, each in their own way. I did write a paragraph fleshing this out in more detail, but I’ll leave it there because I don’t want this to become a political discussion.

        I imagine that you thought that Tesla was destined to fail, when it turns out that they have now made enough total profit to offset all of the “losses” that they’ve made since their founding, and they are now just a money-printing machine, and they’ve only just reached the million cars a year mark. Every single technological innovation in the history of mankind has followed an exponential growth curve, and there is zero reason to suspect that electric transport should be any different. Perhaps you are not aware of what is happening in various markets around the world, outside of the US. Check out the car markets in Europe and China (China being the largest car market in the world, by the way), find 11 year old videos by Tony Seba on YouTube and see how everything he predicted has so far come true, and perhaps your eyes will be opened. Ten years from now we will see who is divorced from reality.

    • Comfort, reliability and convenience. That’s what we basically trade for what the market is currently providing when it comes to battery powered vehicles. While it’s true that climate change is real, it’s also true that it’s existed since the dawn of time. Most people don’t mind experimenting and exploring other options to carbon alternatives; however, they also can’t stand the fact that it’s heavily subsidized by federal dollars while making a few millionaires into billionaires. That’s why you see comments like that.

        • Ah, the arrogant and clueless radical leftist claiming once again, in his clueless arrogance, to represent “The SCIENCE”.
          Well, John, the science is speaking, and what it is speaking is that electric vehicles are not and can NEVER be a substitute for fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
          .
          The electrical grid to power such a fleet of vehicles is nowhere in place, and would cost many trillions of dollars, and vast amounts of resources and metals that are simply not available in sufficient quantity, to build. Nor are the necessary resources for the batteries and motors available in enough quantity in the world to build a fleet of electrical vehicles that would be more than a very small fraction of today’s vehicular fleet.
          .
          This is not “pessimism”, as I was accused of by Harry in this thread earlier, it is simply realism, and reflects a recognition of real-world limits and limitations that you radical leftist dystopian dreamers consistently refuse to acknowledge.
          .
          Honestly, John, countering all your scientific and economic ignorance, and your irrational, authoritarian and coercive policy prescriptions, is like shooting fascist fish in a barrel.

          • No, it definitely is pessimism and totally defeatist. It’s also spectacularly misinformed, in terms of the electrical grid’s capacity to handle EVs:
            ‘https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmorris/2021/11/13/electricity-grids-can-handle-electric-vehicles-easily–they-just-need-proper-management/?sh=26b896887862
            ‘https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/journey-to-net-zero/5-myths-about-electric-vehicles-busted

            And what exactly is “dystopian” about replacing fossil-fuel with alternative fuels which:
            a.) Don’t run out
            b.) Don’t cause cancer, asthma, dementia etc. etc.
            c.) Don’t emit greenhouse gasses
            ??

            You can’t look at today’s availability and production quantities and conclude that that proves that it’s impossible to build enough electric cars. The question is whether there are sufficient quantities of the required resources in the earth’s crust in locations that we can mine them, and the answer to that question is that there definitely is. By the way, did you know it’s possible to make a motor without using any rare-earth materials, and that fossil-fuelled cars use more rare-earth materials than EVs?

            Could we replace all vehicles on earth with EVs tomorrow? Of course not! You have to build the required mines and factories, and you know what? That is exactly what is happening. In China, in 2020 they sold 1.3 million EVs, and in 2021 that increased to 3.3 million. In 2019, Tesla sold 367,500 vehicles, which rose to 499,647 in 2020 and then 936,000 in 2021. That’s an incredible rate of increase given the background of the severe COVID-induced supply-chain problems that have persisted for the last couple of years. There’s an EV tipping point coming; I predict that sometime in 2027 you’ll be asking yourself if it’s time to buy an EV!

          • Jefferson, you don’t have any connection to the industry. Your only perspective is that of someone who hides in a cave and participates in online echo chambers. You have no ability to understand the concepts you claim exist while refusing to prove.

            The grid is expanding, and transitioning to handle EVs at the same time more EV loads are installed. They don’t happen all at once. Nor is the industry unable to accomodate its growth. What you attempt to discuss is beyond your experience. You’re still claiming climate change is a hoax and that humans can’t exist without oil driving every industry. You’re ancient. You offer nothing of practical matter to the world. Not a thing.

            Understand this. It’s a fact.

  17. “Whilst it is not acceptable that such an expensive and low-volume product should be suffering mechanical issues so soon after delivery, the problems with this bus hardly sound insurmountable'”
    These problems have been occurring since 2015 when a prototype exploded.

    • “These problems have been occurring since 2015 when a prototype exploded.”

      Hmmm, what exactly is the purpose of prototypes again?

      And are you saying that because one exploded once, we shouldn’t ever use one ever again? Because if we apply that logic, we shouldn’t use ANY kind of mechanised transport, and just go back to horse & cart.

      • There is an “s” on problems. Mechanized transport is great. The issue is fed subsidies, and a concept called “moral hazard”. “Nudging” can be profitable for corporatists billionaires.

  18. Save the environment? What a joke!!! The green dream is a nightmare !! It takes 500,000 pounds of materials mined by a diesel powered mine equipment to make one 1,000-pound car battery. It also takes the equivalent amount of 5,000 smart phones plastic to manufacture a single wind turbine blade and to power a solar array to power a single data center uses the equivalent to 50,0000 million smart phones. The carbon offset is a joke for electric cars while they consume over 5 pounds of earth over the life of the battery and a combustion engine just 0.2 pounds of earth per mile.

    Today’s vehicles have become way more than our mom and dads’ vehicles. One day the oil will run out, and I highly doubt that we will see that in our lifetime. Unlike the Lower 48, our vehicles have to spend a lot of time warming up if they aren’t garaged and most Alaskans don’t have the luxury of having a house or condo with a heated garage…. It’s time for a reversal of roles to see the struggles a blue collared worker goes through. Then maybe the politicians will realize the struggles America suffers and term limits for sure!!! No one should get rich by sitting on their laurels for 47 plus years and having nothing great accomplished to speak of or show for the working man/woman!!!

    • The first half of your post is just a load of long-debunked nonsense. Look, you have to start somewhere; if all existing machinery and transport use fossil fuels, then it’s inevitable that you will use fossil fuels at the start of the transition from fossil fuelled to electric. Are you really so devoid of hope and imagination that you can’t realise, that eventually all the machinery and transport will be electric and that that electricity will be generated from renewable sources? Yes, it will take time to transition, but it can and will happen eventually, and you have to start somewhere. You can’t just instantaneously switch over.

      Already, electric vehicles are significantly more efficient than fossil-powered ones, and in the US 40% of all electricity is generated from non-fossil sources, and that percentage is increasing all the time. It depends on the vehicle, but it is well established that over the lifetime of the vehicle, the carbon emissions of battery electric are dramatically lower than that of a gas-powered vehicle, and this comparison will only improve over the coming years as more and more of the supply-chain and electricity generation is renewable-powered.

      There are several companies who are able to recycle over 99% of the materials in a car battery. We can and will get to the point where battery production is closed-loop and very little to no mining is necessary to produce new batteries.

      • Sorry Harry #fjb is far and away closer to being right. If this was coming more directly out of your own pocket, you’d be able to see a bit more clearly.

  19. I just talked to the operator of an electric school bus a few days ago. I asked him a lot of questions. It was a fascinating conversation. He told me that due to the prices of electricity in his community it was actually a little bit more expensive per mile to operate an electric bus than a diesel bus at almost all temperatures. He said in some communities with a lower electric cost he suspects it could be about the same or possibly just a little less. What surprised me the most though is that maintenance costs are higher for the electric bus than his fuel buses. The ebus batteries take very expensive special moisture absorption packs that are part of the bus’s required annual maintenance. Those packs are several hundred dollars every year. On top of all this, the range of his bus is cut in half when the heaters are turned on which means he has a range of just under 80 miles for several months of the year. This range means that bus can only be used locally on his shortest routes. Therefore, no sports trips, no field trips, no ability to cover an extra route if another bus breaks down, etc. The new cost of the electric school bus is $293,000. A new fuel bus costs $100,000. I specifically asked him if the price was the same for an ebus as a fuel bus would he buy another ebus. With absolute no hesitation whatesoever he said, “No!” This technology is being forced on us. Someday e-buses may be feasible, but for now, especially here in Alaska, they are not a viable solution.

    • Hi David, do you know which brand of electric bus the operator was running, and how old they are? I have never heard of these moisture absorption pads; they are not used in cars so it’s not clear why they are necessary in a commercial vehicle pack.

      Perhaps the deployment of these buses is half-baked/premature. If there was charging infrastructure available at the sports trips and field trip destinations you mention, then the reduced range wouldn’t be such a problem.

      When asking him to consider a fuel bus vs an electric one, did you ask him to consider the significant negative health impacts of the tailpipe emissions in a fuel-powered vehicle?

  20. And by the way Juneau has a grant request pending for 7 more electric buses according to Juneau Empire. Maybe if they just double the fleet they can always have half of them out of service! Good way to create those renewable-energy jobs I say. And by the way, one would think that the head of Juneau’s Engineering and Public works department would be… an engineer? Nope.

Comments are closed.