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It's not magic, it's just the future

by Susan Gillin | Oct 26, 2017

Link Transit charging ahead with electric buses and advanced charging system

Link Transit’s new electric buses aren’t magic, but the way they’ll fuel up feels like science fiction.

Half George Jetson, half Star Wars tractor beam, an inductive system planned for Columbia Station will allow the newest buses to top off the batteries with 16.5 kilowatts of electricity in about five minutes. 16.5 kilowatts extends the bus range an additional nine miles. The typical Link Transit urban bus will charge up 14 times a day. This technology allows the bus to travel over 200 miles a day.  The average in-town service mileage for Link is around 190 miles.

Drivers will pull their buses over the charger – picture a manhole cover, but about twice the size – and as long as they’re within six inches of the metal plate, the batteries will charge.

Link Transit's Todd DanielHow does it work? Alternating current “AC” is supplied underground to the charging station, which includes an induction coil. The electric current causes the coil under the pavement to create an electromagnetic field capable of transferring Direct Current power to a second induction coil on the bus.

Beam me up, Scotty.

The charging station is a $500,000 investment in the future of a fleet that someday may be all-electric.  Five full-size battery electric transit buses and four smaller trolleys are quietly humming along in the urban areas of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee.  These buses have to be charged mid-day in order to meet the range requirements.

Five additional full-size electric buses are planned for 2018.  

It’s been a long road from smelly diesel to zero-emissions electricity. Todd Daniel, Link’s maintenance and technology manager (in photo above), has been there for the whole trip. One might say he’s the driving force.

Daniel credits a forward thinking general manager and Link’s board, which realized in 2002 that “when you live in an area with clean, green power… you should look into alternatives” to diesel. He did, but the cheapest low-emissions option, natural gas, did not have the line capacity to meet fast-fill requirements for Link’s fleet.

Then in 2009, a federal grant paid for five electric trolley buses from the Ebus company. But early problems with the battery design made those buses unreliable. The trolley buses now have improved batteries which will keep them running until they reach 100,000 miles.

Another federal grant covered five BYD buses which were nine months late in getting here but are dependably delivering passengers now.

“This technology is not going away,” Daniel said. “It’s progressing. When I think where we were seven years ago and where we are today…”

Yet another grant is paying for five more BYD buses being tested this winter. These are the buses that will use the futuristic induction charger to refuel in downtown Wenatchee.

The electric buses cost about $700,000 each. Sounds like a lot, but new diesel buses are about $600,000, Daniel said. Electric buses need much less maintenance and there are no fuel costs, “but the real reason to invest in them is zero emissions,” he said.

That and happy riders. “At the end of the day, drivers come in and they tell us they love to drive the bus. Passengers tell us they love to ride the bus.”

Want to take a ride? If you ride the bus from Columbia Station to East Wenatchee, you are most likely going to be riding one of Link Transit’s new electric buses.  You can ride this route for free.  You might have to ask the drivers if the rig they’re piloting is electric. “When you look at a BYD bus and a diesel bus today you won’t see any difference,” Daniel said. “Except for the electric bus sticker on the rear side windows, they look almost exactly the same.”

Electric bus fun facts

  • Drivers don’t need to do much braking. They just back off the accelerator to send the energy back to the battery.
  • Electric buses get about 1.3 kilowatts/mile, which only costs $0.035 per mile of electricity, compared to 6 miles per gallon of diesel which costs about $0.50 per mile of diesel fuel.
  • The new buses help riders in wheelchairs get on and off faster, with automation that allows the rider to secure his or her chair with minimal assistance.
  • Diesel is still used to heat the interior of the electric buses.
  • The new buses will have a 145-mile range. They may be used on the Leavenworth route but probably not on Chelan/Manson, where hill-climbing quickly degrades battery charge. Extreme weather can affect battery efficiency, too.

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