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July 9, 2024

$23M grant will buy electric buses, chargers for Acadia’s Island Explorer shuttle

An electric bus is parked near a town green. Photo / Courtesy, National Park Service An electric bus, provided last September by BYD USA, was part of pilot project to determine the feasibility of electrifying the Island Explorer transit system serving Acadia National Park and Hancock County.

The Island Explorer — a free, seasonal shuttle serving Acadia National Park and Hancock County — will be able to replace much of its propane-powered bus fleet thanks to a federal award of $23.5 million.

The grant will fund the acquisition of 23 electric buses and charging infrastructure for the nonprofit transit service Downeast Transportation Inc. Twenty-one propane-fueled buses will be replaced with electric buses, and two electric buses will be purchased to expand the fleet, according to a news release.

The service’s executive director, Paul Murphy, told Mainebiz it will probably take the better part of three years to get all the the buses in place. The process includes developing specifications, bidding out the project and procurement. The lead time, from date of order to date of delivery, for battery electric buses is currently 18 months two years, he said.

The money was awarded as a grant to the Maine Department of Transportation from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, program.

RAISE grants invest in a wide variety of transportation projects at the state and local level that work to improve safety, environmental suitability, community connectivity and economic development. 

“We congratulate Maine Department of Transportation on receiving a grant from the Federal Transit Administration for $23.529 million to acquire 23 electric buses and charging infrastructure for the Island Explorer bus system, which serves Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities,” the park’s superintendent, Kevin Schneider, told Mainebiz. “We are also grateful for the support of the Maine Congressional delegation of such an important project.”

The shuttle story

Downeast Transportation is the authorized public transit provider for Hancock County, operating year-round commuter bus service between Bar Harbor, Bangor, Brewer, Franklin, Milbridge and Ellsworth, as well as the seasonal Island Explorer shuttle service for Acadia National Park and surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula. 

Since its establishment in 1999, the Island Explorer has had more than 9 million riders.

The National Park Service partnered with Downeast Transportation last fall to test the feasibility of converting all or some of the Island Explorer fleet from propane to electric power. 

The pilot project was supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Two manufacturers, BYD USA, headquartered in Los Angeles, and Gillig LLC in Livermore, Calif., provided electric buses at no cost to Downeast Transportation to operate on Island Explorer routes for two weeks last September, as part of the Explorer’s regular service. 

Data such as average speed, energy use and range traveled was collected remotely by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the information was analyzed to help determine the necessary battery capacities and locations for charging stations. 

To date, the fleet has consisted of 32 propane buses, which are scheduled to be replaced over the next six to eight years by electric buses.

The electrification project comes as visitation at Acadia remains at record levels of 3.8 million visits a year.

“The electrification of the Downeast Transit Inc. bus fleet will help ensure Maine people and visitors alike can continue to rely on this critical bus service across Hancock County, and in Acadia National Park, as well as help to further Maine’s climate goals,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, said in a joint statement.

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James Hennemann
July 10, 2024

A cost of $1,000,000 per bus. The LP/LNG powered bus is what $250.000? Thinking $17,250,000 would go a long way toward fixing a lot of other problems around here. Not to mention, where do you get them repaired?

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