Greater Portland Metro and Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach (BSOOB) Transit plan to begin operation of four electric-powered buses next month.

When they are put into operation May 17, they will become the first fixed-route, all electric, zero emission buses in Maine. Greater Portland Transit currently has a fleet of 44 buses that are fueled by compressed natural gas or diesel fuel.

Greater Portland Metro is a separate entity from BSOOB Transit, a municipal partnership, but they teamed up to secure nearly $6 million in federal and state funding to acquire the four electric-powered buses from a well-known California-based manufacturer, Proterra.

Proterra says on its website that it has been in the electric bus manufacturing business for 10 years and has sold more than 1,300 buses to over 135 transit agencies in 43 states and Canadian provinces.

Each of the southern Maine public transit agencies will deploy two electric buses after they are introduced during a public launch ceremony in mid-May.

“We are at the beginning of a transformation of our fleet, going from a fossil fuel operating system to electric,” Gregory Jordan, executive director of Greater Portland Metro, said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

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Greater Portland Metro is committed to becoming a zero emission transit system by 2040, Jordan said.

Chad Heid, executive director of BSOOB Transit, said his fleet consists of eight trolleys, two commuter coaches, and 11 buses, all of which are diesel-powered. BSOOB is preparing to apply for additional federal funding to acquire more electric buses in the near future.

Unlike Greater Portland Metro, which will have one charging station located at its Valley Street facility in Portland, BSOOB Transit will have a charging station at its Biddeford garage and will install on-route charging stations at the Saco Transportation Center later this year. Those on-route stations will allow the buses to stay out longer.

Jordan said the purchase of two electric-powered buses represents the culmination of an effort that began in 2018 when Greater Portland Metro sought aid from the Federal Transit Administration, which was offering funding for transit agencies to help transition fleets to electric power.

The two electric buses that have been acquired by Greater Portland Metro will cost nearly $3 million and will be funded with a mix of federal and state money – including Maine’s share  of the $21 million federal legal settlement with Volkswagen, the carmaker that cheated in its emissions testing. The funding mix was the same for the two electric-powered buses BSOOB Transit purchased.

“It just took us some time to get all our ducks in a row,” Jordan said of the delay.

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The first electric bus is already in Portland and the second one is due to be delivered in two weeks. In the meantime, Greater Portland Metro is putting the finishing touches on the charging station that will be located at its Valley Street facility, Jordan said.

The Proterra ZX5 buses are to be unveiled during the launch ceremony scheduled for May 16, according to an announcement posted Wednesday on Greater Portland Metro’s Facebook page.

Jordan cautioned that the operation of two electric-powered buses is a pilot project to see how they perform during a harsh Maine winter. In addition to climate impact, energy prices are another factor that Greater Portland Metro must consider.

“Their range in the dead of winter won’t be as robust as their range will be in July,” Jordan said. “We are very clear-eyed about what these buses can do for us, especially in a typical Maine winter.”

Proterra estimates that its 35-foot ZX5 bus has a range of 240 miles on a single charge. Its 40-foot bus has a range of 329 miles on one charge. Both Maine agencies are purchasing two 35-foot electric-powered buses.

Jordan was unable Wednesday evening to provide figures on how much money and fuel will be saved by using electric-powered buses, but he did say that the diesel buses now in use average about 5 miles to a gallon.

Visually, electric buses will look a little different from a diesel bus, but the biggest difference may become apparent in the ride, Jordan said.

“The electric buses will be much quieter and should provide … a much more pleasant riding experience,” he said.

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