Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Lipscomb Wants Electric Buses Sooner

Budget amendment would purchase four electric buses this year for MCTS.

By - Oct 27th, 2018 08:24 pm
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Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. Photo from Milwaukee County.

Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. Photo from Milwaukee County.

Via a budget amendment, Milwaukee County may see its first electric buses sooner than it thought.

County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. wants to get the county started with the procurement of four electric buses through the 2019 county budget. He submitted an amendment to the budget Thursday at a meeting of the Finance and Audit Committee.

The amendment calls for approximately $5.1 million in financing for the four buses and related infrastructure, including charging ports. Though, as Lipscomb noted, pricing for the buses is less than exact, as the county has never gone through a procurement process for battery-powered electric buses before.

Lipscomb is confident that electric buses are the future. And transitioning Milwaukee County Transit System’s fleet will likely take more than a decade, so he wants the county to begin sooner than later, to get some experience with the technology before more investments are made.

“If we don’t get started we’re never gonna get there,” Lipscomb said.  “I mean this is gonna take 15 years,” he added, referring to transitioning the entire fleet.

Because of the fluctuating nature of diesel prices, Lipscomb thinks the electric buses will save the county money in the long run — despite the potentially high price tag for them. Lipscomb gave the committee the highest quote he had heard so far which was more than $800,000 for a bus. That figure is substantially higher than what the county pays for diesel buses.

But, there’s also the benefit that the buses expel no direct emissions, cutting down on diesel fumes polluting the city. However, the electricity the buses use will be generated by coal-burning power plants.

Originally, new electric buses were tied to a federal grant for which the county applied. The grant would have provide financing for electric buses to be used on the proposed East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line between downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa. The county expects to hear back on a separate grant application for the creation of the BRT system in mid-2019

The general consensus at the meeting was that Bus Rapid Transit is the ideal line to begin using electric buses. It has two terminuses making for simple, straightforward installation of charging ports along the route.

The county is still planning on moving forward with that project should the grant money come through. But it appears Lipscomb does not want to tie the fate of modernizing the bus fleet to a grant proposal.

“We gotta put a stake in the ground and say that we’re moving in this direction,” Lipscomb said.

Thus, his capital allocation for the four buses. Lipscomb’s amendment would reduce the number of diesel buses the county intends to purchase next year by four, to 23 total.

So these four electric buses are basically a pilot program, Lipscomb said. Though he doesn’t want to call it that, “because I think it will prove itself.”

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