Graham Kilmer

MCTS Pulling New Battery Electric Buses From the Road

Manufacturer alerted MCTS to possible safety issue with new electric buses.

By - Aug 24th, 2023 05:14 pm

MCTS Connect 1 at Wisconsin Avenue Stop. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Milwaukee County Transit System is pulling its new battery electric buses (BEBs) from the road.

“Due to a manufacturers recall, and out of an abundance of caution, the Milwaukee County Transit System will remove all Nova Bus LFSe+ battery electric buses from the CONNECT 1 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line temporarily, starting today,” MCTS said in a statement Thursday. “Nova Bus, the manufacturer of the electric buses, notified MCTS of a potential issue that may have occurred during the manufacturing process.”

The buses, manufactured by Canadian-based Nova Bus, began service in June with the launch of the new bus rapid transit line, Connect 1. They were purchased specifically for the new service and have not operated on any other MCTS routes. The new service is a nine-mile route running east and west between downtown Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. There are dedicated bus lanes along most of the route as well as level boarding stations and off-bus fare validation, all contributing to a faster bus service.

“We made the decision to take our battery electric buses off the BRT line until the batteries are replaced,” said MCTS President and Managing Director Denise Wandke. “Even though Nova Bus did not recommend that course of action, we felt it was important.”

Nova Bus conducted a “thorough safety-related analysis of the issue,” MCTS said, and determined the buses are safe to drive. But the transit system said it it “committed to safety above all else” and that it would park the buses at its maintenance facility until the batteries on all 11 buses are replaced.

The manufacturer notified the transit system about the issue on Aug. 24, according to MCTS, and will cover the cost of replacing the batteries on all 11 BEBs that the county has purchased. “We are confident that Nova Bus’s proactive recall shows their commitment to safety and product quality,” Wandke said.

MCTS selected Nova Bus, a subsidiary of Volvo Group, for its BEB purchases in 2021. The transit system had a contract for 15 buses, with 11 for the Connect 1 and another four for a pilot program to study BEB performance along normal fixed route service. The buses have a battery-distance of 247 miles and the 11 running along the BRT service were expected to save approximately 67,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually.

“Battery electric buses are a unique part of the CONNECT 1 experience, and we look forward to seeing them back on the line as soon as the issue is resolved,” Wandke said.

Connect 1 will continue to operate with only diesel buses for the time being.

MCTS Had Trouble With Buses From the Beginning

Less than a month into service, one of the new BEBs running along Connect 1 needed its battery replaced.

On July 6, a crane was brought to the transit system’s Fond du Lac station to swap out the massive battery for a new one.

By July 24, MCTS had also replaced part of a battery on another BEB, according to a spokesperson for the transit system. Both battery inspection and repair are covered under warranty.

“With this advanced technology, a great deal of engineering goes into the manufacturing of the BEB,” a spokesperson said in late July. “We’re embracing the new technology so we can continue to move public transit forward, and we look forward to the next innovation underway in the industry so we can continue to provide the best experience to our riders.”

The battery electric technology is brand new for MCTS and will continue to be a learning experience for the transit system. “We don’t have the history on them that we do with the rest of our fleet,” a spokesperson said in July.

When the Connect 1 service launched, the very first BEB in service experienced a technical issue – powering on and off several times in quick succession – at the turnaround and charging station in Wauwatosa and passengers switched to another bus to continue riding.

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3 thoughts on “Transportation: MCTS Pulling New Battery Electric Buses From the Road”

  1. says:

    Nice to hear the Connect 1 is not all MCTS claims it to be. There are many long time riders who fought against it, to no avail. It became obvious after attending several meetings, this new line would go through. So disappointed to see the Route 10/Goldline be discontinued. If a random survey could be done of longtime MCTS users, I’m betting most would say they do not like the Connect 1 and wishws the Goldline/Route 10 was still in service. The Connect 1 is a poor replacement, and costs me more time. Nothing good to say about the Connect 1. I challenge Urban Milwaukee to poll riders and see how many really like the Connect 1.

  2. Martha Brown says:

    Count me in as a new MCTS user who regularly rides and appreciates Connect 1. Attracting more users is a priority for MCTS, and this speedy service can assist in accomplishing that goal.

  3. 45 years in the City says:

    It looks like MCTS might have jumped into BEB technology too soon. It would have been better to have had other (and better funded) transit systems do the debugging.

    Reality check on the “greenness” of BEBs: According to the generation mix stated at WE Energies website, they are powered by: 30% coal, 33% natural gas/oil, 31% nuclear, and 6% renewables. That’s not to say that electrics aren’t worth pursuing, it’s just a reminder that they are not a magic wand solution.

    On the plus side, electrics perform better (especially acceleration) – and the unpleasant exhaust is gone (or at least moved to the coal/gas/oil generation locations).

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