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Electric Buses

Electric Bus

Say hello to the new CTA 700-series—the first, all-electric buses to be added to CTA’s bus fleet!

We are proud to once again be at the forefront of the industry and be the first major U.S. transit agency to use all-electric buses as part of daily service.

Entered into service in late October 2014, these battery-powered buses provide customers with a cleaner, quieter ride that reduces fuel costs and significantly decreases emissions, which means improved air quality for Chicagoland.

What we learn through the operation of these buses in Chicago will not only help shape the future of the CTA, but also the overall public transit industry in its ongoing efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

Below is more information about these new buses and what to expect when you board.

On this page:

 

Benefits

  • Breathe easier. With lower harmful emissions, operating one electric bus is the equivalent of removing 23 cars from the road each year! Reduction in harmful emissions also reduces incidents of illnesses and respiratory diseases, which is valued at $55,000 annually per bus, or $660,000 over the expected 12-year bus lifespan.*
  • Did you hear? The noise produced by these electric buses is the equivalent to a human conversation.
  • $25,000. The estimated annual net savings in fuel costs for each electric bus, or $300,000 over the expected 12-year lifespan of each bus.**
  • 80 to 120 miles is the estimated distance each bus can travel on a single charge. Charging a bus can takes about 3-5 hours, which is less time needed to charge some tablet devices.
  • You saw it here first. We are among the first major transit U.S. transit agencies to test the feasibility and durability of electric buses in extreme hot/cold weather and with heavy passenger loads.
  • Helping shape the future of transit. What we learn from using these electric buses will not only help shape the future of CTA and the buses we design, but this is also helping shape the overall public transit industry in its ongoing efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

*Based on the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Quantifier Health Benefits Methodology
**When compared to the Nova 6400-series buses they replace.

 

About the buses

The addition of the all-electric buses to the fleet of 1,800 buses complements the ongoing modernization of CTA’s bus fleet, as announced by Mayor Emanuel in June 2012. This modernization plan includes adding 300 new buses and overhauling more than 1,000 buses that were purchased between 2007-2008. Buses being overhauled will receive new technologies that will make the vehicles more fuel efficient and emit fewer harmful emissions than when they were brand new.

The two electric buses are permanent additions to our bus fleet; therefore, these are expected to operate in service for the life of the vehicle, which is typically 12 years.

While unlike any other vehicle we have in the fleet, to ensure a consistent customer experience, the electric buses are equipped with some standard features also found on buses throughout our fleet, such as:

  • Ventra fare payment system
  • Low-floor, ramp-accessibility
  • Surveillance cameras
  • Automatic Voice Announcement System (AVAS)
  • Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning
  • Driver Barriers

 

How is this being funded?

The two electric buses were purchased with funds provided through the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) II and Clean Fuels grant programs and a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Per the terms of the grant, during the first year of operation, CTA will provide reports on the performance of the all-electric buses along with a year’s worth of operating data on the two diesel-powered buses they replace. The information gathered on the performance of these all-electric buses – in extreme weather conditions and under heavy passengers loads – will be used to help shape the future of CTA’s bus fleet as well as the overall transit industry.

How do the buses work?

Until now, buses in our fleet were either powered by traditional clean diesel engines or by clean diesel-electric hybrid systems. The new buses are purely battery-operated and feature energy-efficient and more reliable electrical operating systems.  

  • Engine: The buses operate using a Siemens electric propulsion system that’s powered by rechargeable lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries. This system is currently used in hybrid applications across the transit industry, including new models of the red, double-decker buses operating in London.
  • Batteries: The Li-ion batteries are designed for the life of the vehicle, which is about 12 years. The batteries can store up to 300 kWh of electricity, and are monitored for safety and performance by a state-of-the-art battery management system.
  • Charging: A slow charging station is used to fully charge the batteries overnight. Charging a bus takes about 3 to 5 hours, which is less than the amount of time needed to charge some tablet devices.
  • Brakes: Similar to our hybrid buses and 5000-series rail cars, the electric buses also are equipped with regenerative braking systems, which capture energy released each time the brakes are engaged and store that energy to use in operating the vehicle.
  • Electric Power Steering: Unlike traditional belt-driven systems, which pull power from the engine and can affect a vehicle’s performance, the new buses feature more reliable electric power-steering systems. With fewer components than the belt-driven systems, the electric steering system won’t require costly maintenance and repairs. Also, when steering is not required, the electric motor can be shut off, which helps conserve battery life.
  • Heating, Ventilation, Air-Condition System (HVAC): The new electric heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems provide optimal comfort during all seasons, keeping the buses at carefully-calibrated temperatures even in the most severe weather. The electric systems are also far more efficient than the traditional belt-driven systems as they only operate when needed; and when in use, they operate at a constant, optimum speed. 

 

How reliable are the buses?

The buses have already undergone rigorous testing to ensure safe and reliable operation. Prior to delivery, both buses underwent rigorous testing at a facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to make sure they are capable of handling the harsh winter temps Chicago often endures.

As with any new technology, we’ll be closely monitoring the performance of these buses as they operate in more extreme conditions that only Chicago can offer – varying road conditions, heavy passenger loads, stop-and-go traffic and operation in sub-zero temperatures in the winter to triple digit temperatures in the summer.

Like all other buses in our fleet, the electric buses meet requirements set forth by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). We also made sure that the performance of the electric buses – speed, acceleration, handling, etc. –is equal to or better than buses currently in the fleet.

Bus Batteries

We know that there may be some concerns about the reliability of the buses and the use of Li-ion batteries, which have been reported to experience poor performance in extreme hot or cold temperature, battery life degradation after several years/miles traveled, etc.

The engineers and designers at New Flyer Industries, the manufacturer of the buses, and CTA personnel diligently worked together to address these issues and to ensure there are a number of safe guards in place to make sure these electric buses provide our customers with safe and reliable means of transportations for the life of the vehicle, this includes:

  • Higher quality, rechargeable batteries designed to last 12 years, which is the lifespan of a bus.
  • To help maintain the travel range of the buses during extremely cold conditions, each bus is equipped with an optional diesel-fired coolant heater. This helps ensure optimum cabin temperature for customers without added power consumption on the bus batteries.
  • The batteries on these buses can never completely drain. If a buses battery charge ever drops to a strength level of 8%, the motor will automatically shut down to preserve the remaining power. 
  • Each battery pack has a steel crash protection case.
  • Continuous battery management system. Whether the bus is in operation or being charged, each bus is equipped with a system that automatically disengages a battery cell with abnormal behavior to avoid any other battery cells from being possibly damaged.  

 

What are some of the environmental benefits?

The new electric buses will replace two 6400-series Nova buses purchased in 2001. When comparing these two different model buses, each electric bus is expected to yield significant reductions in harmful emissions and air-borne pollutants.

Reduced emissions lead to reduced occurrences of illness, such as respiratory diseases. According to the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Quantifier Health Benefits Methodology, the reduction in particulate matter from just one electric bus is equivalent to about $55,000 in health benefits savings annually; and over the anticipated 12 year lifetime of the bus, annual health benefit savings are estimated at about $660,000 in health benefits. Reductions in other harmful emissions include:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2): a 121-ton reduction per year, per electric bus. Over the anticipated 12 year lifetime of the bus, this equates to 1,452 tons per bus.

  • Hydrocarbons (HC): reduced by 0.0428 tons per year or 0.5136 tons over the 12 year lifespan of each bus.

  • Carbon monoxide (CO): reduced 0.310 tons annually or 3.72 tons over the lifetime of the bus.

  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx): less 0.5938 tons per year, or 7.1256 tons over the lifetime of the bus.

  • Particulate matter (PM): reduced by 0.0274 tons per year, or 0.3288 tons over the 12 year lifespan of each electric bus.

     

Photos

 CTA's two new, all-electric buses

CTA's two new, all-electric buses, the first of their kind to be added to our fleet and used as part of daily service.

Interior of electric bus

Interior view of one of the new electric buses. To ensure consistency in the customer experience and across the fleet, some aspects of the new bus design appear similar to the rest of the fleet. There are, however, a few new things we're testing for consideration on future bus orders.

Seating on new electric buses

One of the more subtle differences on the new buses is new, lightweight seating designed and built to withstand heavy-duty use. These seats reduced the weight of each bus about 400 lbs. compared to other seat models previously considered.

 

LED lighting on electric busesThe electric buses are also equipped with brighter and more energy efficient LED lighting. In fact, as part of CTA's ongoing efforts to go "green", whenever possible, we're converting to LED lighting in our facilities and bus and rail vehicles.

 

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