Graham Kilmer

Battery Electric Buses Returning to Connect 1

MCTS buses for BRT line were pulled in August to have batteries replaced.

By - Sep 26th, 2023 01:31 pm

Battery Electric Bus. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Milwaukee County Transit System said the Battery Electric Buses (BEBs) pulled from the road for a factory recall are beginning to return.

The first BEB returned to service Tuesday and they will continue to return one at a time until all the batteries have been replaced. The buses were purchased for the system’s new Connect 1 bus rapid transit service.

The transit system pulled the buses in August after the Canadian manufacturer, Nova Bus, alerted transit officials to the issues with the batteries. MCTS had, by this point, already replaced one battery and part of another battery. Nova Bus is covering the cost to replace the batteries.

The batteries were not a danger to passengers and the buses were pulled from service for battery replacement out of an “extreme precaution.” Transit officials considered the batteries to be a sensitive public issue and pulled the buses to avoid public concern about safety.

“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,” David Locher, manager of enhanced transit, told county supervisors earlier this month.

MCTS has been running clean-diesel buses along the new nine-mile Connect 1. Denise Wandke, MCTS managing director, said that fuel costs for the diesel buses were roughly equivalent to electricity costs for the BEBs, but the emissions reductions disappear with the BEBs.

Along with returning buses, MCTS has received the final two buses that were part of the original order of 11 for Connect 1. These will hit the streets on Thursday. MCTS also ordered four others that will be part of a pilot program testing the BEBs on regular bus routes.

Another piece of new transit technology coming to the system thanks to Connect 1 is off-bus fare validators. These new terminals will allow riders to pay their fare before their bus arrives, reducing the time the buses spend at stops.

But the system is still waiting for the validators, due to supply chain difficulties, MCTS said, and in the meantime, the service will remain free thanks to sponsorship by Umo, the software platform that hosts the new MCTS mobile app.

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