T notes: Battery buses not ready for primetime yet
Safety officer reports 4 derailments so far this year
MBTA OFFICIALS said on Monday that battery-powered buses are a promising technology that is still several years away from being ready for prime time, largely because a test of five vehicles indicated they take too long to charge and don’t live up to their mileage specifications, particularly during the winter.
The MBTA purchased five battery-power, 60-foot buses in 2019 and ran them on Silver Line routes over the past year. According to the T, the vehicle manufacturer promised the buses would run 100 to 120 miles on a single charge, but the actual mileage ranged from 60 to 110 miles, with the lesser amounts coming on colder weather days.
Erik Stoothoff, the MBTA’s chief engineer, said the buses would run out of juice in the afternoons, unable to complete some of their runs. He said it took eight hours to recharge the batteries.
“They don’t have enough battery power to deliver a full day’s service,” he said.
Lawmakers and transportation advocates are pressing the T to convert to all-electric buses as quickly as possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stoothoff said the battery technology is rapidly improving, but he predicted it would be several years before the technology reaches a level that would justify a major procurement.
The T is currently preparing to build a new bus garage in Quincy that is expected to be completed until 2025. Stoothoff said the facility will be capable of supporting an electric bus fleet, but he said a number of challenges lie ahead, including securing enough electricity to provide charging services at the facility.
Derailments above target level this year
The MBTA’s new safety officer, Ronald Ester, reported on Monday that the transit authority has had four mainline train derailments so far this year through July, one above the target level for the entire year.
Introducing a new system of metrics for evaluating safety at the T, Ester also said the T had 2.2 customer injuries per million passenger trips on trains through July, nearly twice the annual performance target set by the T of 1.2. Customer injuries per million passenger trips on buses was 2.54, slightly above the annual target level of 2.4.
On most other measurements, the T fared pretty well. Ester said the dashboard will be used to identify problem areas and dig down to find out the root causes.
Bus lanes aren’t cheap
Pollack said the cost of bus lanes has soared, in part because the projects often involve more than painting the lane red. She said many municipalities are combining the bus lanes with other work on curb cuts and bicycle lanes. Pollack said the state has cobbled together money for the projects from federal, state, and municipal sources, but the funding is unlikely to be sufficient over the long haul.
“We will ultimately neede a sort of dedicated pot [of money] to make sure we can build out the full network,” she said.
Dedicated bus lanes appear to be gaining in popularity. The T recently announced 14 miles of bus lanes to be completed by the spring of 2021 in Chelsea, Everett, Somerville, Boston, and Revere.
Speaking of red paint, T Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville said the agency is using a special red paint that lasts 10 years. He said the paint typically costs $7 to $12 per square foot to install. By arranging joint purchases with municipalities and other state agencies, Gonneville said the T has been able to cut the cost to $4.70 per square foot.New fare gates being tested at Charles/MGH
Two new fare gates are being tested at Charles/MGH on the Red Line, part of a years-long effort to upgrade to a cashless fare collection system.