Graham Kilmer

Battery Electric Buses Will Return This Fall

Plus, ridership continues to increase and issues with real-time signs and mobile app have been fixed.

By - Sep 8th, 2023 03:16 pm

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

The Milwaukee County Transit System‘s new battery electric buses (BEBs) will be rotated back onto the streets throughout the fall.

The buses were pulled from service on Aug. 24 after MCTS received a letter from the manufacturer, Nova Bus, informing them of an issue with the batteries. MCTS officials have maintained that the buses were still safe and did not need to be pulled from the road, but that they stopped using them out of “an abundance of caution.”

“Because safety is so important, we decided to temporarily suspend use of the battery electric buses until the batteries can complete their recall process,” said David Locher, manager of enhanced transit, at a meeting of the county board’s Committee on Transportation and Transit Tuesday. “These buses are absolutely safe with the batteries as they are today.”

When asked, MCTS has declined to elaborate on what exactly was wrong with the batteries. “Timelines and details will be made available as more information is provided by our vendor,” said the agency in a statement.

Locher told supervisors that the decision to suspend the buses was a public relations consideration. He said the battery issue is “sensitive from a media standpoint… even though the possibility of any kind of event, tied to the batteries is very, very remote; perception is reality, and we did not want to spook anybody.”

MCTS ordered 11 Nova LFSe+ buses from the Canadian manufacturer for its bus rapid transit service called Connect 1. To date, MCTS has received nine BEBs. The buses can run 247 miles on a single charge and are powered by a traction motor and powertrain produced by BAE Systems. The transit system has previously estimated that once all 11 BEBs are in service, the system will save the system 67,000 gallons of diesel annually.

But, Managing Director Denise Wandke said that the transit system is spending roughly the same amount of money on electricity for the new buses as it does on diesel for the miles of service.

Nova Bus will cover the cost of replacing the batteries on all the buses. “We don’t pay a dime for those new batteries,” Locher said.

The Connect 1 runs nine miles between downtown Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. The buses run most of the route along dedicated bus lanes and stop at new elevated bus stations with off-bus fare terminals and real-time signage.

Development of the new Vel R. Phillips Plaza at 401 W. Wisconsin Avenue is well underway and will be finished in time for the Republican National Convention next summer, Locher said. The plaza is a joint city-county project that will turn a parking lot into a new public plaza with a Connect 1 station on W. Wisconsin Avenue. Another station will be built at the site of The Couture residential tower currently being constructed at 909 E. Michigan St. This station is expected to be in service by the end of 2024, Locher said.

The Connect 1 has so far been posting positive ridership numbers. Rides on the service will be free until October thanks to a sponsorship deal with Umo Mobility, the software company behind MCTS’ new fare collection system.

Locher said the service is seeing 3,600 rides a day, up from 3,200 in early August. And on July 7, during Summerfest, the service provided 6,000 rides. Locher said that figure “really speaks to the community seeing this as a transit asset that anyone can tap into.”

Downtown Milwaukee has been the “tentpole” destination for the service, Locher said, with 900 riders traveling there a day. Marquette (600 rides) and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (200 rides) have also been popular destinations for riders.

MCTS has also fixed a few software issues for the service since its launch, Locher said. The real-time schedule signs were displaying too many bus arrivals and the new app was showing “ghost buses” or buses that were on the schedule but not on the street. Both those issues have been fixed, Locher said.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us