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Advance Transit set to bring electric buses to the Upper Valley

  • Crystal Pelletier, left, and Thomas Bowen, both of White River Junction, Vt., board the Advance Transit bus at the Gilman Office Complex in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 18, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, July 27, 2019

WILDER — Electric-powered buses could soon be transporting commuters throughout the Upper Valley after Advance Transit secured a $3 million grant to purchase several new vehicles.

The federal grant, which was announced last week by Vermont’s congressional delegation, is meant to reduce air pollution and decrease carbon emissions.

Transportation makes up about 45% of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a news release from the offices of U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.

“Investments like these create a cascade of benefits for our community,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

Advance Transit officials were equally enthusiastic.

“Needless to say, we’re really excited about this,” Advance Transit Executive Director Van Chesnut said on Thursday.

Advance Transit hopes to purchase at least two electric buses with the grant money, but it’s possible as many as four could hit the roads, Chesnut said, adding that he’s still in talks with manufacturers.

Considering the time it could take to complete contracts and order the buses, he estimated it could be a couple years before they’re ready to transport Upper Valley residents.

The nonprofit uses 32 diesel buses to carry people on routes through Lebanon, Hartford, Norwich, Hanover and out to Canaan.

The efficiency of those buses has also increased over the years, Chesnut said. Advance Transit has been upgrading buses to meet 2010 federal emission standards, “which are quite strict to what the buses were under before,” he said.

The diesel buses now run 95% cleaner and no longer give off a “stinky diesel” smell from the exhaust, according to Chesnut.

The company also began incorporating hybrid buses into its fleet in 2011, meaning maintenance crews already have some experience repairing electric engines, he said.

The grant is part of a larger effort to test electric buses in Vermont, said Barbara Donovan, public transit manager for the state Agency of Transportation.

VTrans plans to send electric buses to three regions — Burlington, Montpelier and the Upper Valley — to see how they work in New England’s harsh winters and hilly landscapes, Donovan said in an interview Thursday.

Two electric buses will begin transporting people in the Burlington area in September, with another two rolled out in Montpelier next year, she said.

“We haven’t seen a lot of information about (electric buses) and extreme cold and our hills,” Donovan said. “That’s why we’re not just going wholesale on electric.”

Chesnut said it’s also worth exploring how far electric buses can drive before needing a recharge.

“Because they’re so new, nobody can predict exactly what will happen,” he said.

However, the state wants to discourage pollution and fossil fuels, and this program is a good first step, according to Donovan.

VTrans isn’t the only state agency piloting electric buses.

The Agency of Natural Resources plans to devote $2 million in Volkswagen settlement funds to an electric school bus and transit bus program, which will provide vehicles and the charging stations to two school districts and one transit group. The program is accepting applications from communities through August.

New Hampshire has also considered using its share of settlement money to purchase electric buses and trucks or hybrids.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.