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PLT to add electric bus

FAIRMONT– Last week Prairie Lakes Transit (PLT) was awarded funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to purchase an electric bus and integrate it into PLT’s transit fleet.

PLT is one of four public transit agencies in Minnesota which were selected by the state to receive funding for six new electric buses using $3.4 million of federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed by Congress last year and $425,000 of MnDOT funding. The three other transit agencies are based in New Ulm, Owatonna and the St. Peter area.

“Electric vehicles (have) pros and cons to them, but they’re going to be the way of the future. You’re going to need to look at them eventually,” said Transit Director Jeremy Monahan.

State and federal funding will cover the purchase of the bus itself, employee training for its operation and the installation of a charging station and other service infrastructure in PLT’s depot. Monahan expects the new bus to save more than 6,000 gallons of gas each year.

Like other electric vehicles, electric buses have higher up front costs compared to their conventional counterparts but are expected to make up for this difference in lower fuel and maintenance costs.

“What I’m interested in is how much we’ll save in upkeep and maintenance. There’s a lot of moving parts in a gas powered engine, what’s going to be different in how (an electric vehicle) runs in a transit system?” said Monahan.

Although PLT now has the funds to buy the electric bus, it’s not going to be out on the streets anytime soon. PLT has yet to select a provider for the bus and its charging station, and these providers must comply with certain requirements set by the spending package. Current estimates suggest the bus’s charging infrastructure will be installed by 2024 and place delivery of the bus itself in 2025. An industry-wide bus shortage has impacting both PLT’s ability to buy an electric bus and replace aging vehicles in the rest of its fleet.

“We got two vehicles in March, and those were purchased in 2020. That’s how behind things are. In 2021 we purchased seven (vehicles) and we’re still waiting on them,” said Monahan.

Once delivered PLT plans to assign the bus to one of its Fairmont routes which is reliably within the bus’s expected range.

“We could run the bus out in the county, and if we had a county route that we were only putting 100-150 miles a day on we might do that, but for now we wanted to be a little more scientific about it and we know how predictable our red and green routes are in Fairmont,” said Monahan.

While the new bus will be a milestone in the electrification of PLT’s vehicle fleet, it’s not expected to replace its remaining gas-powered vehicles anytime soon. PLT chose not to spend an additional $45,000 to receive an additional electric bus and Monahan doesn’t plan to buy another electric vehicle anytime soon.

“I’m pretty sure by the time I retire we’ll still be using gas,” said Monahan.

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