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Zero-Emission Electric Buses Join Wichita Fleet

Nadya Faulx
Riders get on the electric bus during the unveiling event for a maiden voyage around downtown.

Electric buses will soon be on Wichita’s streets.

The city rolled out its first four zero-emissions buses Thursday, making Wichita the first city in Kansas to incorporate the more environmentally friendly model as part of its regular fleet. The buses will start serving routes early next year.

“A vehicle like this is potentially, hopefully, a reason why people choose to use public transportation,” said Wichita Transit director Mike Tann.

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
Buses line up at the Wichita Transit center.

The electric buses, manufactured by the California company Proterra, will replace diesel models at the end of their 12-year life cycle. The city has committed to replacing all of its fleet in the coming years as the older buses age out.

“Wichita is joining a worldwide paradigm shift,” Proterra founder Dale Hill said at the unveiling, “the likes of which very few industries have ever seen.”

Hill said few technologies catch on until they can prove they’re “cost competitive.”

Each electric bus costs $639,500, but Hill says the buses save $300,000 on fuel and $150,000 on maintenance over the course of their lifetimes compared to the current diesel models. Wichita's first four electric buses were purchased using a $2 million federal grant.

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
The charging station

Besides how quiet they are, riders might not notice the difference between the electric models and the diesel ones they’ll be replacing.

“As long as the transportation is efficient, there’s no difference,” said Carla Jackson Patton, one of the attendees who took a ride on the bus during the city’s event Thursday. “It’s a beautiful bus. I’m loving riding on it.”

Patton says she’s a regular transit rider, and a member of the local Society of Alternative Resources.

“I have great-grand kids, so I have to think about what their world is going to look like,” she said. “And I want to leave a cleaner, safer environment.

“[The bus] is the first step in Wichita moving forward with alternative resources and being more environmentally responsible.”

After charging overnight at the transit center, the buses can run all day. Proterra founder Hill said the 400 buses the company has sold so far have saved 50 million pounds of CO2 in the eight years they’ve been in service.

The city says it will also replace its free Q line trolley with electric vehicles next year.

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.