A Metro Transit New Flyer electric bus demo in April 2015. Credit: Metro Transit

Metro Transit will create an electrification plan before making final decision on buying more buses for its fleet.

Minneapolis-St. Paul’s metro area public transit system withdrew a proposal this week to purchase 131 diesel and hybrid buses following public feedback pressuring it to put a greater focus on electrifying its fleet.

The Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, made the decision based on public comments on its 2040 Transportation Policy Plan, spokeswoman Kate Brickman said. More than 100 comments related to electric buses, with many of them questioning the lack of detail in the long-range plan about the future role of electric buses.

Fresh Energy, which publishes the Energy News Network, was part of a coalition encouraging the agency to create the electrification plan.

By canceling the procurement the Met Council will have additional time and flexibility to determine a strategy for electrification, Brickman said. The Council will create an electrification plan that will be released as part of the broader transportation document before the end of the year, she said.

The agency did not commit to replacing the order with one for electric buses. Brickman said purchasing decisions are being put on hold until it completes the electrification plan, which will inform future procurement plans that could still include diesel, hybrid and electric buses, or some mixture of one or the other, she said.

“The Council wants to look long term toward electric vehicles and our ability to do that,” Brickman said. “But those actions and decisions haven’t been made yet.”

Electric buses are about to become part of Metro Transit’s fleet. The Met Council signed a $12.5 million contract this year to buy the buses from New Flyer of America, Inc., which has a plant in Minnesota where they will be manufactured. The buses will serve the rapid service C-Line connecting downtown Minneapolis to the North Side and Brooklyn Center.

Over a typical 12-year lifespan for a bus, battery electric buses save $400,000 in energy costs and $125,000 in maintenance, according to New Flyer. The buses have a 150 mile range.

Metro Transit starting 16 years ago was one of the nation’s first transit agencies to deploy electric hybrid buses. Today roughly 15 percent of its buses are electric hybrids. Metro Transit says hybrids and other improvements increased fleet average miles from less than four miles per gallon to almost five miles per gallon.

The decision to put the diesel and hybrid order on hold was cheered by clean energy advocates.

“Transportation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases in Minnesota,” added Joshua Houdek, a Sierra Club organizer. “We commend Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit leaders as they move to protect our communities by leading a just transition to zero emission buses to serve neighborhoods across the Twin Cities.”

Diana McKeown, Metro Clean Energy Resource Teams director at Great Plains Institute, heard about the decision while at an event for “Cities Charging Ahead,” an initiative to help cities prepare for electric cars.

“Huge kudos to the Met Council for putting forward a plan that provides commitment, leadership and improved air quality on behalf of future generations of Twin Cities’ residents,” McKeown said. “This is a big deal.”

Frank Jossi

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College.