Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) has seen tremendous growth in recent years, with 13 million passengers in 2018, 62 nonstop markets and 100,000 shuttle riders each month. To support this growth, the airport has 19 shuttle buses (15 of which are diesel) that average 50,000 miles per year through their daily routes. But as of this past May, RDU has some new faces in its shuttle lineup: four all-electric Proterra buses.
The additions made the airport the first public body in the Triangle to deploy zero-emission buses into a fleet, and Plug-in NC joined North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives to check out the setup and see what the buzz is all about.
RDU began looking into electric buses in 2017. With the fixed routes of the airport’s shuttles, the technology seemed viable, and a route simulation revealed that one charge could handle a full 8-10 hour shift. From there, the main considerations were cost, height (for on-route clearance considerations) and route vs. depot charging.
After receiving a federal grant to cover 50% of the cost, RDU purchased four Proterra Catalyst 40-foot E2 buses for just under $3.4 million. The airport calculates that it will see annual fuel savings of approximately $5,000 per bus and annual maintenance savings — another benefit of electric vehicles — of approximately $20,000 per bus. At the end of the year, RDU will compare actual fuel and maintenance savings with those of its diesel buses.
The buses also feature regenerative braking technology, which allows typically wasted braking energy to be captured and used to improve efficiency while reducing wear on brakes. Therefore, a significant maintenance perk will be going from needing to check the brakes every 3-4 months to only annually.
As far as charging goes, RDU has installed four 60 kW fast chargers in its depot lot. Charging is done after the shuttles have completed their shifts, and total recharge time is approximately 4-5 hours. RDU fleet managers were excited to report that charging has had no effect on the service schedule of the shuttles, and to date, each bus has logged over 17,000 miles since going into operation.
Following the rollout of the electric buses, RDU developed and launched a sustainability management plan, and its programs can be found on the airport’s website. It also already has goals to purchase more electric shuttles down the road. So, the next time you are hopping on a flight at RDU, try to catch a ride on one of the new Proterra buses. They will get you exactly where you need to be but with a quieter, more spacious, emissions-free experience!