Georgia State rolls out federally funded electric bus fleet, as similar efforts across the country fail

But push to transition to electric buses has not been without significant bumps.

Georgia State University received a $22 million federal grant to roll out an all-electric bus fleet.

Georgia State University has received a $22 million federal grant to roll out an all-electric bus fleet.

Georgia State announced last week that it was one of 130 grant recipients nationwide to receive a federal grant to electrify its Panther Express bus service. The $22.3 million grant will provide 18 new electric buses and charging infrastructure. But the transition to an electric bus fleet has been significantly complicated where it has already been tried.

“This grant will allow us to transition to an all-electric bus fleet, reducing emissions, protecting the environment and enhancing the health of our students, faculty and staff,” Georgia State President M. Brian Blake said in a statement. “It is another way we are prioritizing sustainability here at Georgia State as well as continuing a sense of placemaking for our community.”

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Panther Express is the bus service that takes students around Georgia State’s campus in downtown Atlanta. It operates from 7 AM to midnight on weekdays during the summer. It makes several stops at the residential corridor of Georgia State and several neighborhoods across Atlanta, including the Fairlie-Poplar Historic District, Sweet Auburn, and Historic Summerhill near Center Parc Stadium. Georgia State is set to become one of the first universities in the country with a fully-electric bus fleet.

The project is part of a $1.7 billion package of grants awarded by the Department of Transportation to provide funding for 1700 low- and zero-emission buses for governments and transit agencies in 46 states and territories.

But the push to transition to electric buses has not been without significant bumps.

The city of Philadelphia attempted to electrify its buses, but the project was a fiasco. According to local PBS affiliate WHYY, most of the buses are out of service, with no prospect of returning to service for the foreseeable future. 

When the buses were first demonstrated in Philadelphia, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) placed them on short, flat routes. But operations still totaled about 100 miles per day; the buses, meanwhile, could only travel 30-50 miles on a single charge, and there was no room for charging infrastructure at either end of the route. SEPTA renovated its bus depot to include charging stations, and ordered upgraded buses that could travel farther. 

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But the upgraded buses had a problem: the manufacturer added more batteries and used lightweight materials to cut down weight. When the new buses arrived in 2019, the buses’ chassis began to crack. The manufacturer insisted that the cracks were not structural, but the cracks were visible, and eventually, roof-mounted equipment brackets began to fail, and SEPTA was forced to shelve the e-buses. 

Then earlier this year, the Ann Arbor Public School district in Michigan reported significant issues with its fleet of buses. The Washington Free Beacon reported that during an April school board meeting, the district’s environmental sustainability director said that the buses were having performance issues and were not on the road, despite being “approximately five times more expensive than regular buses.” Furthermore, the infrastructure upgrades were anticipated to only cost about $50,000, but actually cost more than $200,000. However, those buses were not funded by federal grants; they were funded by state dollars from a legal settlement with Volkswagen. 

Campus Reform reached out to Georgia State for comment.