JUTC going electric

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JUTC going electric

By Balford Henry
Observer senior reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, March 20, 2020

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STATE-RUN Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) appears set to add electric buses to its fleet.


The test is expected to commence with the importation of five electric buses for use by the company during 2020/21 fiscal period. However, diesel is set to continue playing the lead role in the service with an additional 65 diesel buses to be imported.


“The projected benefits of implementing this initiative are quite significant and include energy saving, environmental preservation and the reduction of the national fuel bill,” Sir Patrick Allen said in his recent Throne Speech.


Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr Nigel Clarke, told the House on March 10, that $1.1 billion had been made available in the 2020/21 budget for 45 diesel buses and five electric powered buses, in order to increase the availability of buses in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region.


Phase 2 of the project will eventually lead to the acquisition of another 20 diesel buses.


The government's intention of moving towards a greater mix of energy-sourced buses by introducing the electric ones was first raised by Science, Energy and Technology Minister Fayval Williams, after a visit to Salt Lake City, Utah in September, last year, when she was accompanied by US Ambassador Tapia, Donald Tapia.


The Minister, and her Jamaican team, were introduced to the buses in Park City, Utah, and were impressed by what they learnt.


“I am excited about it and I will definitely be bringing back all this knowledge to the minister in charge of transport,” she was reported as responding to a test drive.


Managing director of the JUTC, Paul Abrahams, is also excited about the testing of the electric buses, the first time ever the government-owned bus company will be using electric vehicles.


“Europe and the United States are all moving towards the use of more electric driven buses, and we are hoping that the test run over our terrain will support this move, and that's why we need the pilot project,” he explained.


But, according to Abrahams, this doesn't mean a complete change to electric buses at this time, but an expansion of the energy sources, as the company already has lots of diesel buses and a growing number of LNG-powered vehicles.


One issue that sticks out like a sore thumb, however, is the cost of the electric-powered buses, which is as high as one-and-a-half times the cost of a diesel bus (approximately $750,000 to $500,000). However, the manufacturers insist that that the cost is easily recovered over the life of the unit.


Alan Westenskow, director of business development at Porterra, one of the leaders in the design and manufacture of zero-emission electric transit vehicles and electric vehicle technical solutions for heavy-duty applications in the US, insists that the invest is profitable.


“A normal diesel bus gets about four or five miles per gallon fuel efficiency.

This bus right here, on average, gets approximately 21 miles per gallon.

Over a two-year period, this bus gets approximately 21 miles per gallon equivalent… so you are looking at about four or five times the efficiency with an electric bus,” Westenskow as reported to have explained.


So, while introducing electric buses to the JUTC fleet would be an expensive undertaking initially, the bus company expects to realise significant savings and a cleaner environment, in the long term.


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