Vail cuts back 2020 order for full-electric town buses | VailDaily.com

Vail cuts back 2020 order for full-electric town buses

Big concerns are range, especially in cold weather, and the cost

The Vail Town Council is looking beyond buses as it eyes ways to solve the town's transportation needs in the next five to 10 years.
By the numbers
  • 32: Buses in Vail’s transit fleet.
  • 9: Diesel-electric hybrid buses.
  • 12 years: Replacement cycle for most transit buses.
  • $5,000: Approximate auction price of a bus at the end of its service life.

VAIL — Electric buses are silent, and don’t smell of diesel fuel. But the technology isn’t yet ready for full-time use in a mountain resort.

Vail officials earlier this year were ready to order seven battery-electric buses for delivery in 2020. Instead, the town will order four battery-electric buses and six buses powered by diesel engines.

Vail Public Works Director Greg Hall discussed the change with the Vail Town Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

Hall said the town currently has a difficult time maintaining its existing hybrid buses — powered by a combination of battery and diesel power. Hall noted those vehicles also get only fractionally better fuel economy than conventional buses.

In a test of the technology, the town in the summer of 2018 brought in electric buses from four manufacturers. Town officials decided to use Gillig, which the town uses for its conventional bus fleet.

But summer and winter are different when it comes to battery-powered vehicles. Batteries don’t perform as well in cold temperatures. 

Hall told council members that the town has looked into electric bus use in Park City, Utah. That study indicates the technology isn’t yet ready for Vail. The biggest problem is range, he said. Buses in Vail won’t be able to run for a full shift without recharging.

Hall added that Park City has had difficulty charging buses in cold, icy conditions.

Vail’s bus-charging infrastructure also needs an upgrade. Hall said the town has applied for a grant to do that work.

Councilwoman Kim Langmaid asked Hall if the department had used greenhouse gas emissions into its evaluation of the buses.

Hall replied that having a handful of electric buses in daily use will cut the town’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Councilman Brian Stockmar owns an electric car and noted that maintenance costs are “significantly lower” for those vehicles.

“That’s why wanted to get four (electric buses here),” Hall said, noting that those vehicles need fewer parts and don’t require conventional fuel to run.

Looking at the bottom line, Mayor Dave Chapin said, “We’re getting four electric and six diesel buses for $700,000 less” than the cost of seven electric vehicles.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.