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City rolls out new electric buses

Noisy, gas-powered buses have some new competition on the Bull City streets. Durham is expanding its electric bus fleet this Thanksgiving, keeping the city on track to reach its goal of an all-electric bus system by 2035.

Five new electric buses hit the streets earlier this month, and another bus is scheduled to go into service this week, according to Director of Transportation Sean Egan. That brings the total number of electric buses to eight, or 13 percent of Durham’s 63-bus fleet.

The city’s electric buses are easily recognizable, touting their environmental impact.

 “In big letters on the side of each bus, it says ‘Zero Emissions, 100% Electric,’” Egan said.

The buses also have a distinct blue and black design, showcasing the city skyline along with silhouettes of a bull and the Lucky Strike Tower.

Durham’s first two electric buses were rolled out in 2021 after the city secured a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The city’s $6.3 million purchase of six new electric buses was funded through the Durham County Transit Plan using a 1/2 cent transit sales tax collected in Durham County. 

The new buses have more battery power than their 2021 counterparts, equipped with an additional battery pack and a new energy management system designed to use electricity more efficiently. 

GoDurham is currently testing out its new vehicles to determine their routes — looking at everything from the topography of each route to the average route speed and the number of stops. 

“We’re doing data collection across the system,” Egan said. “So we’re trying to get them out on all of the different routes to see how they perform on each one of those routes.”

Durham’s electric transition reflects a broader trend in North Carolina. Charlotte has 18 electric buses in service and another 15 on order. Greensboro will soon have 21 electric buses, making up over 50% of its 41-bus fleet. Raleigh has five electric buses, while Chapel Hill has four in service, seven due to arrive in the next few months and another 11 on order.

“We’re number three, right now, in North Carolina,” Egan said. “When Chapel Hill gets their buses in January, they’ll jump ahead of us.”

Along with its peer cities, Durham is slowly inching towards an all-electric bus fleet. GoDurham hopes to purchase 18 more electric buses using a $5.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, pending approval from the City Council in December.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct a previous error regarding funding for the new buses.