Electric Buses Can Save Local U.S. Governments Billions. China's Showing Us How It's Done.

Silvio Marcacci

"America’s largest cities are converting their bus fleets from fossil fuel to electric – what’s behind this accelerating trend? The answer, in a word: economics.

Electric buses, all-electric versions of the diesel-dominated mass transit fleet, are nearing cost-competitiveness with traditional technologies, representing billions in potential savings for cash-strapped local governments.

In many locations, the total lifecycle cost of running electric buses is lower than fossil-fueled buses, and if battery prices continue their rapid decline, the unsubsidized cost of buying an electric bus could be cheaper than diesel as early as the mid 2020’s.

While electric buses make economic sense for local governments, significant hurdles exist to mass fleet electrification. Fortunately, China may hold the key to overcoming them faster and cheaper than expected.

America’s Largest Cities Are Electrifying Their Bus Fleets

Electric buses are becoming a bargain due to lower operational and fuel costs – consider Chicago, which says each electric bus saves $25,000 in annual fuel costs.

The electrification trend is spreading fast. New York City, home to America’s largest bus network, says its 5,700 buses will be all-electric by 2040. Los Angeles, the second-largest bus fleet, will convert all 2,300 buses to electric by 2030. San Francisco, home to 1,100 municipal buses, just announced it will be all-electric by 2035 and will only purchase electric buses by 2025.

Two recent analyses show how those economics are improving. In December, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers assessed the total lifecycle-costs of different bus technologies, finding battery-electric buses are cost-competitive with liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas, and hybrid diesel buses – about 40% of the U.S. bus market.

Electric buses have lifecycle-cost advantages over internal-combustion engines because they covert energy into motion more effectively and have far fewer moving parts, making them cheaper to power and maintain over time.

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