Blacksburg Transit launched its first ever group of electric buses on Thursday, marking the first step in the town’s long-term plans to convert to an all-electric fleet. The five electric buses, part of BT’s fleet of 53 heavy duty buses, were launched on Earth Day and replace five conventional diesel-powered buses. The transit service is among the first systems in Virginia to buy the electric buses, according to an announcement from the town this past week.
“These buses are just the beginning of what will someday be a fully electric fleet of buses,” BT Director Tom Fox said. “Our goal is that in three to four years, half of the entire fleet will be electric, and we will be 100% electric in about 10 years depending on funding. This is a large step towards reducing our carbon footprint while also reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.”
The initiative reflects the community at large, which is inhabited by many involved in science and technology, said Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith.
“It’s not just a good idea. It goes to the heart of what our community values are,” she said. “That should not be a surprise to anybody.”
The electric buses are among the latest in a string of key developments at BT.
Hager-Smith also pointed to the BT multi-modal transit facility project.
Town officials also hope to keep BT fare free in the future, a move that would further extend a change initially made last year at the onset of the pandemic. BT currently remains fare free.
“I think people are coming to terms with the idea that this is a solid public good … a coming together to agree that they’re important. It’s also a matter of equity,” Hager-Smith said. “We have always been heavily involved in issues to do with equity and community well being.”
In addition to obviously being a public health crisis, the pandemic exposed some of the long-existing flaws and inequities in municipal systems, Hager-Smith said.
The order for the electric buses was placed in November 2019, Fox said.
Of the five electric buses, three are 35-foot units that each cost about $900,000, Fox said. The other two buses, each 60 feet long, cost about $1.4 million each.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Federal Transit Administration provided the bulk of the money for the buses with 43% and 46% of the funding, respectively, according to BT. Another 9% and 2% of the funding, respectively, came from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and local sources—a town announcement stated that Blacksburg and Virginia Tech provided funding for the purchase of the vehicles.
The electric buses, for their first day of service, operated on the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and Progress Street routes.
Our goal is that in three to four years, half of the entire fleet will be electric, and we will be 100% electric in about 10 years depending on funding. This is a large step towards reducing our carbon footprint while also reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
By Yann Ranaivo