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Mountain Rides is happy with electric buses more than a year later

A bright blue electric bus with the charging port open.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Four electric buses arrived to Mountain Rides last year.

A diesel bus backed out of a garage at Mountain Rides in Ketchum and rumbled loudly as it launched forward toward its route to pick up passengers.

An electric bus in the parking lot was on, but was barely making a noise.

Carlos Tellez, the maintenance and facilities manager at Mountain Rides, flicked the blinker switch with his foot. He said it’s often the loudest sound on the bus.

Four electric buses first hit the public transit route in the Wood River Valley last August. The chargeable buses cost roughly $800,000 but are expected to save Mountain Rides 15-20% on maintenance and ownership costs over time.

“There’s a few things we still gotta do the same as the diesel, but the rest, most of the stuff is just inspection,” Tellez said.

Maintenance costs for a diesel bus’ first year in the Mountain Rides fleet are around seven cents per mile. For the first year with the electric buses, they were about three cents per mile – less than half the cost.

At 250,000 miles, some parts replacements might be required.

The drivers, several of whom have been driving diesel buses for more than 15 years, have adapted to the new buses well, said Jamie Canfield, the director of transit operations. The cockpit is pretty much the same, but they drive a bit differently.

“When you’re driving a diesel, you stomp on the gas and it goes,” he said. “With the electric bus, there’s a few more steps than that.”

Jamie Canfield sits at the wheel of an electric bus.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Jamie Canfield, the director of transit operations, said drivers are working on how to maximize "regeneration" to save battery life.

One thing the drivers have to keep in mind is “regeneration” – the battery on the buses recharges when you take your foot off the gas or tap the breaks. Getting the ratio right means the buses can be out on the streets longer.

Canfield said the drivers have even started a friendly competition to see who can get the best regeneration.

The biggest challenge with the new buses so far came last winter.

“We had a really cold week in the valley, I think it was between Christmas and New Years, and we knew that was going to be challenging – the temperatures were below zero,” said Ben Varner, the director of assets and planning at the transit authority.

Heating uses a lot of extra energy and Varner said he wasn’t sure how much it would impact the battery system.

One bus got down to a 5% charge as it was pulling in at the end of the day. But, the buses held up very well, Varner said, and were able to bring skiers to and from Sun Valley Resort all day.

This winter, seven new electric buses made by New Flyer of America will start arriving. Mountain Rides has a goal of being fully electric by 2027. To buy new buses, the organization applies for many federal grants, which can cover about 80% of the initial cost.

Also in development is an expansion to the parking bays at the Bellevue facility because the electric buses have to be parked inside. That facility could be ready late next year.

Valley Regional Transit in the Treasure Valley has 12 electric buses onsite with eight more on the way.

Editor's note: This story initially said the maintenance cost for electric buses in their first year was more than two times less that of diesel buses. It is in fact less than half the cost.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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