Fayette County

How cold is it? Lextran’s electric buses can’t run their routes. Here’s why.

Like a giant iPhone charger — for LexTran buses

Lextran has recently unveiled a fleet of five new electric buses. The buses use no gasoline and have zero emissions. The buses pull into a charging station on East High Street at Lexington Avenue on every trip to recharge before the next trip through the route. The recharging takes 7 to 10 minutes. Lexington Herald-Leader video by Charles Bertram
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Lextran has recently unveiled a fleet of five new electric buses. The buses use no gasoline and have zero emissions. The buses pull into a charging station on East High Street at Lexington Avenue on every trip to recharge before the next trip through the route. The recharging takes 7 to 10 minutes. Lexington Herald-Leader video by Charles Bertram

This week’s cold snap had an unexpected casualty: Lextran’s fleet of electric buses.

With daytime highs this week well below 32 degrees, the public transportation authority had to switch out its electric buses for those powered by diesel or natural compressed gas. Heating the buses when it’s so cold drained the charge, making it difficult for the buses to complete routes.

“Because an extreme cold demands more energy from the vehicle, we’ve had some concerns about the ability to maintain a comfortable onboard temperature for passengers and maintain the schedule,” said Jill Barnett, assistant general manager for Lextran. “Topography and length of route are other factors that may impact the energy demanded from the vehicle, and the buses may rotate amongst routes as we work on the ideal operating scenarios.”

Lextran doesn’t run as many routes during the holidays, when the University of Kentucky is on break, and that has allowed Lextran to switch out buses, Barnett said. Lextran has used federal transportation grant money to buy the electric buses and charging stations. Electric buses are less than 10 percent of its total fleet. It recently received five compressed natural gas buses, she said. The vast majority of its fleet runs on diesel.

She declined to say whether all five of the electric buses had to be parked because of the cold weather.

In September, Lextran received a $1 million grant from the Federal Transit Authority’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program to buy more battery-powered or electric buses and additional charging stations. More charging stations on bus routes could help battery or electric buses sustain enough energy to adequately heat buses and complete their routes.

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