MBTA goes out to bid for battery-electric buses
Officials expect contract to be awarded by end of year
THE MBTA is beginning the process of electrifying its bus fleet, launching a long-awaited procurement that could lead to the purchase of 460 battery-electric buses over the next five years.
The T’s request for proposal went out on Friday, with the transit authority seeking a battery-powered bus supplemented with a diesel-power heating system and capable of going 150 miles on a single charge.
The contract is expected to be awarded by the end of the year and the first buses should start arriving in fall 2023. The first 35 buses will go to a refurbished North Cambridge garage toward the end of 2023 and the next 45 will go to a Quincy garage that is currently under construction in 2025.
The T is trying to time the delivery of the battery electric buses to coincide with the construction of new facilities capable of storing and charging the vehicles. The buildout in Quincy will accommodate 120 buses and then a new enclosed Arborway garage near Forest Hills Station is expected to accommodate 150 buses when it opens in 2027. New garages in Wellington and Lynn would be next on the list.
“People on the outside tend to doubt us and question what we’re doing,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of folks who continue to hammer away at the fact that we’re talking a big game about electrification but yet we have no battery electric bus procurement on the street. We’ve tried to communicate that the reason for that is we want to have a five-year contract that can populate all three of these first garages.”
Bill Wolfgang, the T’s director of vehicle engineering, calls bus electrification a revolution whose time has come. “It’s time to start to make this change,” he said.
Even though the revolution is starting, the T is going to continue buying hybrid diesel-electric buses, most likely until 2027, to replace older buses in the fleet and allow time for the new electric charging and repair acilities to be built. The T’s goal is to fully electrify its bus fleet by 2040.
Not all transit systems are embracing electrification right now. The Eagle-Tribune reported last week that the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority is sticking with its existing diesel and hybrid diesel-electric bus fleet, largely because of the high cost of shifting to electric buses and their limited range.
The MBTA obtained five battery-electric buses in 2019 and used them to learn about the technology. What the T discovered was that the driving range of the buses dropped in winter when a lot of electricity was used to heat the vehicles. The new bus procurement deals with that problem by requiring the addition of a diesel-fueled heating system that can be used when temperatures are lower.
The procurement also calls for the new buses to be made with non-corrosive metals and to be charged using overhead pantograph chargers.
The cost of the 40-foot vehicles will be determined through the bidding process, but industry officials say they are expected to cost around $1 million apiece.
“We’re designing for the future and not just for today,” said Katie Choe, the T’s chief of capital delivery. “We’re doing our due diligence on every project to make sure we’re paying the right amount.”