RDU travelers will soon ride on electric buses

Raleigh-Durham International Airport is buying four electric buses like this one from Proterra Inc.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport is buying four electric buses like this one from Proterra Inc. COURTESY OF PROTERRA

Travelers will begin to notice electric buses at the terminals and parking lots at Raleigh-Durham International Airport for the first time in the spring of 2019, after the airport authority decided Thursday to purchase four of them.

RDU is buying the buses with the help of a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for zero emissions vehicles. The airport will cover the rest of the $3.4 million project, which includes installing charging stations.

The 40-passenger buses, to be made by Proterra Inc. in Greenville, S.C., will cost $721,650 each, about 64 percent more than comparable diesel buses. The federal grant essentially covers the difference, noted Dickie Thompson, a Raleigh City Council member who serves on the airport authority.

“So we wouldn’t really be able to do this without this grant,” Thompson said.

But once they arrive, the buses are cheaper to operate and maintain, said John Connell, RDU’s vice president of operational asset management. In addition, electric buses accelerate faster and provide a quieter, smoother ride, Connell said.

And they’re cleaner. RDU estimates that the electric buses will eliminate emissions of an estimated 16.9 million pounds of carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases over the lifetime of four similar diesel buses, which are typically replaced every seven to 10 years at the airport.

The new buses will join a fleet of 14 that ferry on average more than 112,000 passengers and their luggage between the terminals and park-and-ride lots each month. Four of those diesel buses have about a half million miles on them and will be retired when the electrics come online. The electric buses will take four hours to recharge, which will give them enough juice to operate for a full eight-hour shift.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling