Electric Buses – Driving into Jamaica’s Future

The Government of Jamaica is exploring the feasibility of introducing electric buses as part of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company’s (JUTC) fleet.

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The move will be facilitated under an electric vehicle policy, which is being developed by the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology.

Portfolio Minister, Hon. Fayval Williams, who is in Utah in the United States for a Solar Power International trade show, said that the potential benefits to be derived from the incorporation of electric vehicles in the public transport sector warranted a deeper exploration of the issue.

She was speaking after a specially organised ride on an electric bus around parts of Salt Lake City on Monday (September 24)

Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Fayval Williams; and Principal Director for Energy in the Ministry, Fitzroy Vidal, look at a charging port for an electric vehicle. (Photo: JIS)

During the excursion, the team was addressed by Director for Business Development at electric bus manufacturing company, Proterra Inc, Alan Westenskow, who outlined a range of benefits to be derived from incorporating these vehicles into the country’s public transportation fleet.

“This can help us reduce our carbon footprint in Jamaica but also to reduce our costs for the public transportation sector.”

Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Fayval Williams

“I will definitely be bringing back all this knowledge to the Minister of Transport [and Mining, Hon. Robert Montague], and I know he’s already been looking at this technology for Jamaica,” she said.

Proterra Catalyst 35 ft. electric bus (Photo: proterra.com)

“So it’s good for me to learn about it as well, being on the energy side of things, and this can help us reduce our carbon footprint in Jamaica but also to reduce our costs for the public transportation sector. These buses are built to very high standards and to last for a very long time, and so we’d have to look at standards for Jamaica and just to look at the maths of it all,” she added.

Mr. Westenskow in outlining the advantages of the electric buses noted that they are more fuel-efficient. 

Director for Business Development at Proterra Inc in the United States (US), Alan Westenskow (right), outlines the features of the company’s electric vehicles.

“A normal diesel bus gets about four or five miles per gallon fuel efficiency. This bus right here, on average, gets approximately 21 miles per gallon. Over a two-year period, this bus gets approximately 21 miles per gallon equivalent… so you are looking at about four or five times the efficiency with an electric bus,” he said.

Mr. Westenskow said that switching to electric buses will also yield significant savings on maintenance for the public transportation company.

“You don’t have oil changes. You’re rarely changing the brakes because when you go downhill you’re regenerating because the motors are acting like the brakes. We generally expect that driving at normal miles, you are going to be about US$35,000 to US$40,000 in savings,” he pointed out.

Proterra Catalyst 40 ft. electric bus (Photo: proterra.com)

The buses also incorporate another feature, which can have significant benefits during times of natural disasters.

“They are vehicle-to-grid, which allows you to actually use your power, if you had a problem. Say a hurricane comes through, you could actually use your buses to provide electricity if your grid is set up to handle that,” Mr. Westenskow pointed out

The buses are priced at US$750,000 each and Mr. Westenskow said that while the initial investment is high, the US$$35,000 to US$40,000 in annual savings will ensure that the Government gets value for money.  “That about US$420,000 over 12 years,” he noted.

Minister Williams informed earlier this month that local power company, Jamaica Public Service will be installing charging stations in the coming year as part of the necessary infrastructure to accommodate these vehicles.