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Power up! This electric bus goes 350 miles on one charge

The Proterra Catalyst E2 Series.

As green initiatives become a priority in cities across the US, the face of public transportation is changing. Nowhere is this more evident than on the roads, where diesel-guzzling buses are being replaced by more energy-efficient models. In fact, according to the American Public Transit Association (APTA), nearly half of the country’s public buses are hybrids or run on alternative fuels.

One company leading the charge in green public transportation is Proterra, an innovator in heavy-duty electric transport. On Monday, the company unveiled its high-performing battery-powered bus, the Proterra Catalyst E2 Series, which has zero tailpipe emissions and contains a battery the size of a twin mattress with a storage capacity of 440-660 kWh.

That massive battery allows the bus to travel up to 350 miles on a single charge, which the company says makes it capable of completing nearly every US mass transit route without needing to power up. When it does run low on power, the E2 Series requires 3.5 to 5 hours to charge, which can easily be done overnight when buses aren’t running.

Under test conditions, the E2 Series traveled up to 600 miles on a single charge.

While Elon Musk’s battery-powered Teslas continue to draw media attention, his invention simply takes one gas-guzzling vehicle off the road. The 42-foot Catalyst E2 Series seats 40, which would result in taking more than three dozen cars out of traffic if drivers chose to take public transportation.

Cost

One thing that might make cities hesitant to adopt electric buses is cost. The Proterra Catalyst E2 Series has a base price of $800,000, which more than doubles the $300,000 cities typically pay for a conventional diesel bus.

Of course, there are the savings that come along with the zero-emission Catalyst E2 Series. Over the lifetime of the bus, Proterra claims that owners can save up to $237,000 in maintenance fees because the battery-powered bus has 30% fewer parts and needs 75% fewer brake repairs and no oil changes.

“The question is no longer who will be an early adopter of this technology, but rather who will be the last to commit to a future of clean, efficient, and sustainable mobility,” said Ryan Popple, CEO of Proterra.

One region leading the charge is Foothill Transit, the transit authority that operates a fixed-route public bus service in the San Gabriel Valley of Greater Los Angeles, Calif. The transit system currently has 15 Proterra electric buses, and plans to get the new Catalyst E2 Series on the road as early as 2017. This area, which serves more than 14 million customers, plans to have their fleet of 300 buses completely electrified by 2030.

Proterra Catalyst E2 Series

“This ambitious goal emphasizes our continued commitment to sustainability and electric bus technology,” said Carol Herrera, Chair of the Foothill Transit Executive Board in a statement.

For bigger cities, transforming to all battery-powered buses would be costly. For example, New York City has 4,373 public buses and would have to pay nearly $3.5 billion for a full fleet of Catalyst E2’s.

In addition to Foothill transit, Proterra is currently operating in 10 cities – including Louisville, Ky. and Worcester, Mass.  – and has sold more than 312 vehicles to 35 different municipal, university, and commercial transit agencies throughout North America.

Environmental impact

According to Proterra, when one of its zero-emission buses replaces a diesel bus, emissions are reduced by 243,980 pounds of CO2 a year. Emissions for greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide, and methane also drop dramatically when cities stop using buses powered by diesel.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reported that 26% of greenhouse emissions came from transportation, which involves burning fossil fuels for our cars, trucks, and planes. Of that, only about 4% of the emissions can be attributed to buses. So while battery-powered buses aren’t a cure-all, they will help to cut down on pollution and reduce oil dependence.

The American Public Transportation Association reports that a two-person household can save an average of $10,174 by downsizing from two cars to one. This statistic makes public transportation sound like a no-brainer, but Americans need more persuading. In 2013, data from the University of Michigan Transportation Center found that just 5% of American workers use public transportation to get to work, while 75% drive to work alone.

Furthermore, Americans took 10.8 billion trips on public transportation in 2014, the highest annual public transit ridership in 58 years. But while commuter rail and subway ridership increased, APTA revealed that bus ridership actually decreased nationally by 1.1%.

In other words, the Catalyst E2 Series is environmentally friendly and will save you money if you use them. But the only way for this new wave of electric buses to have a positive impact on the environment is for people to ditch their cars and jump on a bus— which could prove difficult.

Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.

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