Graham Kilmer

MCTS Unveils New Electric Bus, Brand For BRT Line

East-West BRT will be "MCTS Connect" with all-electric fleet.

By - Nov 11th, 2022 04:13 pm
MCTS Battery Electric Bus. Photo Courtesy of MCTS.

MCTS Battery Electric Bus. Photo Courtesy of MCTS.

In a ceremony outside one of the future downtown stops, the Milwaukee County Transit System unveiled its first battery electric bus (BEB) that will run on the new East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line Thursday. It also revealed that the line will be called MCTS Connect once it’s up and running in June 2023.

The branding is “specifically designed for the battery electric buses (BEBs) used on this BRT route. The BEBs feature a sleek new look to highlight their advanced technology,” MCTS said in a statement. “The light blue color scheme is a natural extension of the existing MCTS blue, and a larger than life ‘C’ logo and the phrase ‘Clean Energy. Clean Air’ further distinguishes the brand. The name CONNECT fits MCTS’s mission to connect the community to jobs, education and life via essential transit services. The graphic elements connote rapid movement, and the reflective decals are eye-catching at night.”

The East-West BRT is a $55 million project the county has been working on since 2016. The nine-mile bus route will run between downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Complex in Wauwatosa. It’s designed to be faster and more efficient than a traditional route with a mix of dedicated lanes, fewer stops and traffic signal priority. The route will also have elevated bus stops built for level boarding, off-bus fare payment options and live updates on bus arrival times.

The new BEBs were built by Nova Bus, a Canadian manufacturer owned by the Volvo Group. The buses are called the Nova LFSe+ and are expected to run a distance of 247 miles on a single charge. They run on a traction motor and next-generation powertrain produced by BAE Systems, an aerospace company based in the United Kingdom.

MCTS estimates that the 11 BEBs will reduce the transit system’s fossil fuel use by 67,000 gallons of diesel annually. The first 11 BEBs will run only on the new BRT. Another four will arrive in fall 2024 and will be tested on other routes throughout the system.

Ron McCorkel, MCTS maintenance director, told Urban Milwaukee the technology the new buses run on is essentially the same as consumer electric vehicles, just bigger. The BAE system, he explained, is, in some ways simpler, for maintenance than a diesel engine.

“I don’t have an engine to fix anymore, I don’t have a transmission to fix, I don’t have a major hydraulic system to fix,” McCorkel said. “So it’s really simplified.”

McCorkel sung the praises of the BAE system. “It is just gorgeous, from a mechanic and engineering point of view, the way it’s laid out.

The battery packs are very heavy though, and the buses come in several tons heavier than the diesel buses MCTS operates. The transit system had to buy a number of new lifts produced by Stertil-Koni that McCorkel said “can handle the heaviest vehicle known to man.”

Other transit systems throughout the country have struggled with the implementation of BEBs when inclement weather struck, whether that be very hot or cold weather. McCorkel said they reached out to these systems to learn from them what went wrong and what went right, then developed their BEB specifications before they even began to solicit proposals from manufacturers. Each bus will also have a diesel heater on board for the colder months.

“I’m really confident with all the work we’ve done that all this will be mitigated that we shouldn’t see these issues,” McCorkel said. “I said this to the [Federal Transit Administration] when they were up here, ‘We didn’t have to be the first; I just want to be the best.'”

Construction continues on the platforms and associated infrastructure for the downtown stations. Many of the suburban stations in Wauwatosa are already complete.

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