DASH electric buses face challenges from hills and cold weather

Electric DASH bus, photo via DASH/Facebook

Alexandria bus network DASH has been charging ahead on its electric bus program, but DASH leadership said the initiative has also faced a few bumps in the road.

At a meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission last week, DASH General Manager Josh Baker shared some of the city bus service’s experience with implementing electrical buses.

“At DASH, we are endeavoring to have a fully zero-emissions fleet by 2025 with phase-out of diesel and hybrid buses by 2027,” Baker said. “The 2025 benchmark is to understand that buses have a minimum 12-year duty cycle.”

While Baker said that electric buses are a big short-term investment — approximately $5.1 million for six battery-electric transit buses and fast chargers — the idea is that electric buses will counter-balance that with long-term benefits to maintenance and fuel costs. So far, Baker said that’s been borne out by electric buses requiring half maintenance cost compared to diesel counterparts, though it’s worth noting that the electric buses are also newer than the diesel buses.

“We’ve been operating electrical buses for over a year,” Baker said. “They were first implemented in October last year. We’ve seen some success, and they’ve been well received by the community and riders.”

Baker also admitted that the electric buses have some challenges, specifically that “they don’t love hills and they don’t love highways, which is something to keep in mind as the program moves forward.”

Baker said the biggest problem, though, has been with the bus chargers.

“The biggest issue we’ve had has been with charging,” Baker said. “As long as they’re charged they’re out there running, but chargers have a tendency to go down for various reasons. We’ve had troubles with installation and contractors and getting them serviced when they break down.”

As winter starts to approach, Baker said the other issue is heating on the buses. Baker said that the electric buses don’t have an engine to generate the same levels of heat that diesel buses do.

“If you’re generating heat from the battery, up to 60% of that can go into heating,” Baker said.

As technology advances, Baker said the heating system in electric buses are likely one of the things that will change over the next few years.

Photo via DASH/Facebook