Graham Kilmer

County Wins Grant For Electric Buses

$1.7 million federal matching grant will help buy Battery Electric Buses.

By - Aug 2nd, 2019 10:02 am

Electric bus. Photo by Ryanmirjanic [CC BY-SA 4.0 (].

Electric bus. Photo by Ryanmirjanic [CC BY-SA 4.0 (].

Milwaukee County has been awarded $1.7 million in federal funding to purchase four battery electric buses.

The county applied for the grant in May of this year and will match the grant with county funds to purchase four Battery Electric Buses (BEB). County Board Chair Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. says they will be used as part of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which is expected to be up and running by 2021.

The grant is part of the Federal Transit Authority’s Low or No Emission Vehicle program. The federal government budgeted approximately $85 million for the program this year and awarded 38 projects around the country. Milwaukee County also applied for funds from the program in 2018 but was denied.

This time around, Milwaukee County was able to apply for the award with a little leverage. During the budget process for 2019 Lipscomb entered a budget amendment that altered MCTS’s bus procurement policy and set aside $5.1 million to purchase four BEB’s and the related infrastructure, like charging stations.

In the amendment, Lipscomb created a new policy for MCTS, one that will work to transition its current fleet to an all-electric fleet. The amendment directed MCTS to purchase 15 BEB’s: 11 for bus rapid transit, and four others that would potentially be used on other bus routes.

In Lipscomb’s budget amendment, it states that the buses could be in Milwaukee County by 2021, based on the estimated timeline for procurement and supply from the manufacturer. This is approximately when BRT planners believe that the service will be up and running.

Although Lipscomb says the four buses that will receive funding from the Low-No project are slated to run on the BRT line, they are not necessarily tied to that project. Lipscomb’s budget amendment created a distinct capital project with $5.1 million for BEB’s and infrastructure precisely so that procurement wouldn’t have to wait for the federal government to fund the BRT project.

A press release from Lipscomb called the buses funded through the Low-No grant a “first wave” in the fleet’s transition to electric buses. “This federal funding will help Milwaukee County modernize our fleet for the future and transition away from the fossil fuels of the past,” Lipscomb said in the press release.

Milwaukee County Department of Transportation Director Donna Brown-Martin has previously said she is “not a big proponent of electric buses, but we’re doing what is asked of us.” While discussing the Low-No grant application with the County Board Finance and Audit committee she said the four electric buses funded by that grant would be part of a “pilot program” so MCTS can study“how they operate” and “are they efficient?”

MCTS is currently working with M.J. Bradley and Associates LLC, based in Washington D.C.,  to study available BEB models and capital costs associated with BEB’s, as well as develop a business plan for implementing them across the system.

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One thought on “Transportation: County Wins Grant For Electric Buses”

  1. TransitRider says:

    Does anybody know if the electric buses will have auxiliary fossil fuel (e.g. kerosene) heaters? Duluth, for example, uses diesel to heat their (otherwise) all-electric buses. In cold weather, electric heat takes a tremendous toll on batteries.

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