Campus News Georgia Impact Science & Technology

Electric buses transform UGA’s transit system

One of the first electric buses stops at Tate Plaza across from Sanford Stadium in December 2019. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

The fleet cuts operational costs and slashes greenhouse gas emissions

The University of Georgia is revving up its approach to sustainability. With 33 new Proterra electric buses set to be in circulation by 2021, UGA is making the transportation industry a little greener.

As a part of its sustainability plan, the university has made campus-wide efforts to increase efficiency and be more environmentally conscious. Each electric bus not only cuts operational costs from $100 to $5 a day per bus, but also reduces net greenhouse gas emissions by 70% compared to the diesel buses they replace. And with the elimination of tailpipe emissions, surrounding bikers, pedestrians and other travelers also enjoy a cleaner commute.

The electric buses are corrosion-resistant and have a potential life expectancy of 30 years, more than twice that of their diesel counterparts. “We don’t intend to ever buy another diesel bus,” said Don Walter, director of transportation and parking.

The buses charge overnight at the campus transit facility, which is also receiving an eco-friendly makeover. Four UGA capstone groups in the College of Engineering are partnering with Auxiliary Services to collect data, improve charging station efficiency and redesign the transit facility to accommodate solar panels. Students are also exploring additional uses of bus batteries to provide power to other parts of campus.

“This is a massive upheaval in status quo,” said Jason Perry, a sustainability specialist with UGA’s Office of Sustainability. The project, made possible by $17.46 million in federal and state grants, has been in development since 2015. “I think it means a lot to the students that we’re willing to make this big of a change,” he said.

The project has included multiple cross-campus partnerships, from the Office of University Architects to the Facilities Management Division and others. “Everyone we’ve partnered with has been so engaged with the project and put forth their best effort,” Walter said.

External partners have also played a major role in the procurement and service of the new buses. The Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), an Atlanta-based nonprofit, has worked with UGA since the onset of the project, providing technical evaluations and consulting, as well as infrastructure and bus testing support.

“We are proud to be a part of this project, which is making a great town and university even greener,” said Jason Hanlin, director of technology development at CTE.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, ridership on UGA campus transit had increased by 400,000 passengers in the past two years. With the introduction of electric buses, Walter hopes to continue growing that number once students are back on campus. “We’re trying to build lifelong public transit riders,” he said.