Residents will now have the chance to ride one of the county's three electric buses, which were unveiled on Monday.
The buses, run by the Regional Transportation Agency, are funded through a grant from the federal Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction, or TIGGER, program in the Federal Transit Administration, as part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transit systems. The grant, worth approximately $3.7 million, means that the only cost to the county is for the electricity needed to power the buses, said David Cookson, a comprehensive and regional planner in the Office of Transportation.
The county's use of the buses is part of a two-year project to evaluate the cost efficiency and effectiveness of electric buses, Cookson said. The project is a collaboration between the county, RTA, Maryland Transit Administration, BYD North America, Center for Transportation and the Environment and the real estate investment trust GGP.
Expanding services and reducing travel times were high on residents' suggesting for improving the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland's public transit system, according to a survey of residents and riders who use the system.
Electric buses, at approximately $750,000 each, are more expensive than standard diesel buses, which usually cost $450,000, and so the project aims to determine if the energy and gasoline savings from their use are worth the extra upfront costs, Cookson said. After the project evaluation, Cookson said it is possible that more electric buses may be purchased, but it will be a matter of funding, he said.
"What are the cost savings that we would get from running these types of buses that would make it worthwhile to buy [them]?" he said.
Two buses will run on the county's 401 route, which has stops at major county locations including The Mall in Columbia, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College. The third bus will either be in reserve or could be used on another route, according to Cookson.
Columbia mall will house a charging station for the buses, which the buses will use for five to 10 minutes every time they stop at the mall. A full battery lasts approximately 12 to 15 hours, and takes roughly four to five hours to fully charge. The buses will also charge each night at the bus garage, Cookson said.