Rochester works to get electric buses

City is applying for a grant to help fund the buses, charging station, and solar panels.

Posted: Jul 10, 2018 7:36 AM
Updated: Jul 10, 2018 4:37 PM

ROCHESTER, Minn. - On Tuesday, Rochester's Energy Commission is being asked to sign a letter of support for an application to help fund a new project for Rochester Public Transit. 

RPT is applying for the BUILD grant to help fund four new electric buses, a charging station, and solar panels. It also applied for funding for two more electric buses through the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) Low or No Emission Grant Program.

According to the BUILD grant application, getting these new buses will help reduce emissions, update the city's aging bus fleet, support a growing population, and ease congestion downtown. 

Today, about 71% of downtown commuters are in cars and the city is hoping the new buses help bring that number down to 43% by 2035. 

But will a switch to electric encourage people to make the change to public transit?

"I don't think it would just because I wouldn't have a need to use the bus," Kelly Kowal of Rochester said. 

"I just love that personal time in my car and have that space so I don't know if it would attract me personally to take the bus," Jenny Book of Rochester said. 

But others disagree. Elizabeth Perez takes the bus to and from work five days a week. She said people may not realize how convenient public transit can be. 

"It is very convenient to me, it really gets me to, from where I live to my job and that's very convenient," she said. 

If more people do decide to take the buses, safety could be improved too. The grant application explains that more people on the bus means fewer cars on the road which reduces the risk for crashes. 

It also could be safer simply because it's newery machinery. 

According to the application 16 of RPT's 51 large buses and three of its 6 medium-sized buses are passed the lifespan suggested by Minnesota's Department of Transporation. 

But via email, RPT said the extended lifespan is a result of taking good care of the buses. The buses get serviced every 3,000 miles and are stored indoor. 

Riders said they never worry about safety. 

"I have no concerns about safety on the buses. As long as maintenance is being done it doesn't bother me. As long as it's being taken care of," Erin Dahlen of Rochester said. 

The total project of 4 buses, a charging system, and solar project is about $7.4 million. The city is asking for about $5.9 million dollars be awarded from the BUILD grant. The city is committed to fronting the remaining cost of about $1.5 million. 

To learn more about the project, find the grant application here.

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