Alabama A&M Soon Switching to Electric Buses

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Leaders at Alabama A&M University are making some changes they hope will mean burning less fuel.

The school will swap out its diesel buses for electric.

A&M leaders were awarded two federal grants for almost $5 million.

School leaders say they introduced the shuttle buses seven years ago to try and relieve parking congestion on campus. Now, around 3,500 students hop on the Bulldog route every day.

"They've become so popular that if they don't see the bus, we get a call that the bus is late," Alabama A&M director of transportation Marshall Chimwedzi said.

A&M has six buses to give students a lift to class. But last year, school leaders opted to make the switch. The school wrote grant proposals and was awarded two federal grants for $1 million and $3.7 million to buy the buses and build infrastructure.

"They go about 175 miles for a full charge," Chimwedzi said.

The buses are being built by Proterra in South Carolina. A&M will get its first two buses by summer, becoming one of the first colleges in the US to go electric.

"The advantage is that it's going to create a quieter environment, they don't make noise," Chimwedzi said.

Chimwedzi says the new buses run quiet, he admits a little too quiet. The last thing the school wants is for a student to get hit because they couldn't hear it coming. Chimwedzi says they are considering adding some kind of alert to the buses to alert students, but says he's open to suggestions.

"You're in your zone, listening to your music, all of a sudden the bus comes," A&M sophomore Bernard Canady said. "It'd be good to have a sound to alert you that you need to move out of the way."

"Maybe we put some music or some bells on them," Chimwedzi said.

Each bus costs almost a million dollars. A&M leaders hope to replace all six within three years.

"In ten years, we can save a million dollars in operational fuel per bus," Chimwedzi said.

Which he says would be long term savings, and perhaps a short term adjustment for young men and women who wear headphones between classes.

The buses operate at about 57 decibels, which is quieter than a normal conversation.

Chimwedzi says the buses have about a 12-year life span. The maintenance is done electronically.

He says they have enough money to buy four buses and to build a charging station, they're also considering solar energy to charge the buses, which take about eight hours to charge.