MISSOULA – Mountain Line managers say the rollout of new electric buses not only means a major step toward protecting Missoula’s environment but also represents an important transitional step to the future.
It was five years ago this summer Missoula got its first look at electric buses when builder Proterra brought an early prototype here for a demonstration.
This week that dream became a reality as Mountain Line rolled out the first public viewing of the transit system’s new coaches.
MTN’s Dennis Bragg joined Mayor John Engen, other members of the Missoula City Council, the business community and Mountain Line staff for the first trip around town.
It was an extremely quiet ride with none of the rumble of the long-used diesel buses and in fact, the real noise was from all of the excited conversation.
The buses are about more than clean air and convenience, their arrival marks a major turning point for Mountain Line.
“It does, and yeah, it’s changing over to a different fueling system changes everything for us,” Mountain Line General Manager Corey Aldridge said. “So going to electric we have to put in new infrastructure and it’s still going to be a learning process when we get everything going.”
You’ve already seen electric buses if you’ve been on the UM campus, where they’ve been running for nearly three years, but there are differences.
“So the university uses a quick charging system. We opted to go with long-range batteries. So they’ll be charging at our base overnight,” Aldridge explained. “And then they’ll go out and be able to stay in service longer before needing to be recharged.”
When asked if the buses will hold a charge so they can run all day Aldridge said, “well, we’ll wait and see. We have hopes that that will happen. But everything is, the climate, and AC, heat, all of it changes how long the batteries will last.”
Aldridge says battery technology has come a long way since those first demo models and while electric buses are still expensive, the prices are dropping. And with lower maintenance over diesel-powered buses, there are long-term savings.
“So we have six total buses coming in right now. We should expect the last one to come in August. There’s a lot of training for our maintenance staff and for our operators and supervisors,” Aldridge told MTN News.
“And then we’ll put them on the road once we’re ready to go. So right now we have hopes maybe that we can get them on the road by September.”
Two more buses will come online over the next year thanks to the climbing ridership through the transit system’s “Zero Fare” subsidized program.
Mountain Line has also announced that two more partners are jumping into that program with the Good Food Store and Windermere Real Estate joining the “Zero Fare” supporters.
Reporting by Derek Buerkle for MTN News