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Electric DASH bus, photo via DASH/Facebook

Electric buses have had a big boost this past month in Alexandria, with DASH laying out future plans for its all-electric fleet and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) welcomed five new electric buses to the school’s fleet.

But electric buses have also faced some technological hurdles as well. DASH leadership noted that the buses struggle with hills and highways, and they also lack some of the heating of traditional diesel buses where the heat is supplied by the output from the engine.

DASH reported that the new electric buses have been less expensive in maintenance and operational costs than the older diesel buses — a claim ACPS echoed earlier this week — but also said the recharging ports have had a tendency to become suddenly non-functional and it can be difficult to get contractors out to have them fixed in a timely manner. Perhaps most importantly, electric buses are a significant environmental improvement over diesel buses.

Overall, DASH is hoping to have a fully-electric bus fleet by 2025 with all diesel hybrids phased out by 2027.

Photo via DASH/Facebook

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ACPS celebrates new electric buses (photo via Abdel Elnoubi/Twitter)

Alexandria’s bus service DASH isn’t alone in starting its electric conversion; yesterday Alexandria City Public Schools celebrated the addition of five new electric buses to the school system’s bus fleet.

At an event yesterday, ACPS and Dominion Energy leadership celebrated the launch of the new buses.

“In a unique public-private partnership, the Dominion Energy program provided the batteries and charging stations needed to operate the five buses that ACPS purchased for the same price as diesel models,” ACPS said in a press release. “The electric school buses are part of ACPS’ commitment to sustainability and hybrid vehicles. The new buses operate entirely by electrical power, help store electricity and stabilize the power grid while creating a quieter ride for students.”

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The schools’ shift toward electricity comes as the citywide bus service DASH also is moving toward having a full-electric fleet, though DASH leadership said the buses have encountered some issues with heating and hills.

Like DASH, though, ACPS said the electric buses come with an economic benefit to the city — costing 60% less to maintain and operate compared to diesel buses.

The ACPS event was also one of the increasingly few celebrations where Dominion was welcomed with open arms in Alexandria. The energy company has been in hot water with the City of Alexandria after a series of catastrophic power failures one year after Dominion representatives told city leadership that earlier power failures weren’t emblematic of larger problems.

Photo via Abdel Elnoubi/Twitter

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Looking ahead to a time after the coronavirus pandemic is over, Alexandria is working on overhauling its electric vehicle infrastructure.

The aim of the new effort, called the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Strategy project, is to examine current electric vehicle charging needs and try to predict where and how those needs will spread.

“The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Strategy project develops an electric vehicle charging infrastructure strategy as a roadmap to anticipate the needs of City residents, workforce members and visitors as transportation options transition from reliance upon conventionally fueled vehicles to electric vehicles,” Bill Eger, the city’s energy manager, said in an email.

The project was funded in the fiscal year 2020 budget as part of a broader “Green City” effort that included switching the city government’s vehicles to electric. Efforts have already included replacing diesel school buses with electric ones and adding new electric buses to DASH.

Eger said the aims of the project are to evaluate the future need for electric vehicle charging, identify optimal locations and recommend certain infrastructure options, like hardware and operational models.

Part of the strategy will also involve reviewing the city’s zoning, codes, permitting and other bureaucracy to change them in ways that will promote and anticipate vehicle charging needs.

“[The strategy will] recommend policies, approaches and synergies for locating electric vehicle charging infrastructure at businesses, multi-unit dwellings, single-family homes, right-of-way, and other locations,” Eger said. “Synergies with the City’s vehicle fleet electrification, public transit bus electrification and other forms of mobility will also be evaluated.”

This program is identified as a key program to advance smart mobility and Environmental Action Plan 2040 goals. This initiative includes community engagement to evaluate priorities and opportunities.

The timeline for the plan remains unknown. It was planned to be brought forward at the Transportation Commission meeting earlier this month before that meeting was canceled, so future plans might have to take a back seat to the city planning for the coronavirus pandemic.

File photo

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Alexandria’s DASH bus system is inviting the public to provide input on a new zero-emissions electric bus.

The 60-foot-long Xcelsior CHARGE XE60 bus can carry more than 120 people, and will be available for the public to take a test ride late this week. The event is happening on Wednesday from 4-6 p.m. at Market Square (301 King St.).

DASH has been experimenting with the bus since last week in an effort to replace its older articulated (connected by a joint) buses. The bus is also being tried out on various routes this week, including one used by Mayor Justin Wilson on Monday morning.

The bus is made by New Flyer of America, and was provided to the city free of charge during the demonstration.

Bus Features:

  • Highest battery storage capacity and range of any zero-emissions bus available in the United States.
  • Ability to serve all current or future routes within the City (navigates tighter turns than many current DASH buses due to special turning technology)
  • Nearly doubles passenger capacity for routes with overcrowding issues (carries 120-130 passengers vs. 80 on current DASH buses)
  • 3 articulated buses can replace 4 standard buses, reducing long term operating and capital costs
  • Remedies bunching issues on routes where too many buses create service reliability issues

Photo via Justin Wilson/Facebook

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Alexandria is one of more than a dozen localities in Virginia — including Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties — that will be receiving electric school buses by the end of 2020, Dominion Energy announced today.

The first phase of a project to replace diesel-powered buses entirely will start with distributing a total of 50 electric school buses to 16 school divisions spread out across the state. It’s unclear how many buses Alexandria will receive.

Dominion said the locations were selected based on the benefit the bus batteries would bring to the electric grid. Per a press release:

The electric school buses will serve as a grid resource by creating additional energy storage technology to support the company’s integration of distributed renewables such as solar and wind. The “vehicle-to-grid” technology leverages the bus batteries to store and inject energy onto the grid during periods of high demand when the buses are not needed for transport. The buses also provide environmental and health benefits through reduced emissions and reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by up to 60 percent.

The press release noted that Thomas Built Buses, a North Carolina-based company that specializes in building school buses, was chosen as the vendor for the first phase of the project.

The second phase of the project would, with state approval, expand the program to 1,000 additional buses by 2025. Phase three would replace 50 percent of all diesel buses by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.

Photo via Thomas Built Buses/Facebook

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