City climate leaders should take notes and learn from Charlotte’s electric bus pilot

City of Charlotte, North Carolina, residents can breathe easier knowing soon that the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) transit buses covering the region will become all electric, supported by a first-in-the-nation energy modeling and financing partnership with Duke Energy via subsidiary eTransEnergy. Under the leadership of Mayor Vi Lyles, City Manager Marcus Jones and CATS Chief Executive Officer John Lewis, Charlotte and city council have taken an important step toward reaching the city’s ambitious climate action goals by approving a 12- to 18 month pilot program set to test 18 battery electric buses of varying manufacturers, a first step to finding the most suitable vehicle for the city’s full transition to battery electric buses. Charlotte City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the pilot program Monday.

Many of the largest U.S. cities’ transit agencies, from Seattle to Los Angeles to New York City, are working to convert their bus fleets from diesel to electric. Electric buses are cleaner, quieter and often more cost-effective than their diesel counterparts over the life of the vehicle, making it easier for transit agencies to choose electric. But while ripping up the diesel bill and sweeping air quality improvements make electric buses increasingly appealing, high up-front costs remain a barrier to making this critical investment in public health.

In partnering with eTransEnergy for this pilot, Charlotte and CATS are taking a new approach to financing, electricity modeling and testing multiple bus manufacturers prior to a full transition to an all-electric bus fleet, and cities nationwide can take note. The partnership allows Charlotte to bundle the up-front costs of 18 new buses from three manufacturers, charging infrastructure and the necessary training and maintenance to support a 12- to 18-month pilot. The pilot will allow CATS to collect data, evaluate the program’s viability and assess vehicle performance while operating on several transit routes.