Columbia University Shuttles get Electric

Campus shuttle system transitions to electric buses, reducing emissions by 70%

Electric bus parked at CUIMC stop

Columbia University is plugging into the future of transportation.

The University introduced six new battery-electric buses to replace the existing diesel-powered buses on its campus shuttle network. The new fleet – among the first electric buses to be introduced in New York City – hit the road in July 2018. The electric buses offer both environmental and health benefits, including a 70 percent reduction in emissions, reduced noise pollution, and improved air quality.

“Electric buses support Columbia’s Sustainability Plan goals of reduced transportation emissions through greener campus fleets and commuting alternatives,” said David M. Greenberg, executive vice president of University Facilities and Operations. “We are excited to take this next step in our use of cleaner energy towards a more sustainable campus and community.”

Columbia’s campus shuttle network operates between campus locations in Manhattan, New Jersey, and Rockland County. The shuttles serve over 1,400 rider trips daily and travel nearly 180,000 miles annually – which is like driving from New York City to Los Angeles 65 times. Transitioning to electric buses is expected to reduce University shuttle greenhouse gas emissions by over 270 metric tons, the equivalent of 3.6 tanker trucks of gasoline according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We have been evaluating transitioning to electric buses for several years, but questions remained about vehicle range and reliability,” said Scott Wright, vice president of Campus Services. “We are thrilled that the technology has advanced to ensure these buses will perform as dependably as their fossil fuel predecessors, only with minimal impact on the environment.”

The six Xcelsior forty-foot buses have seating capacity of 40 passengers, a battery capacity of 480 kilowatt hours and can travel over 200 miles on a single charge. The purchase of the buses, which includes three charging stations, is supported by a grant from New York State Electric Vehicle Voucher Incentive Funds, a program administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and is a partnership with the New York State Department of Transportation, New York City Department of Transportation and CALSTART. The program focuses on advancing clean vehicle technologies in New York through point of sale rebates to reduce the cost for businesses and municipalities that want to purchase new clean vehicles or retrofit commercial vehicles and buses into hybrids, natural gas vehicles or zero-emission vehicles. Since 2013, it has provided almost 600 rebates for trucks and buses throughout the State. The rebate reduces the incremental costs of purchasing advanced alternative fuel technology heavy-duty trucks and buses by up to 80 percent.

Alicia Barton, President and CEO, NYSERDA, said, “Columbia University’s decision to add six electric buses to its campus shuttle network is another example of how our academic institutions are demonstrating environmental stewardship and leadership.  Governor Cuomo has provided the commitment to ensuring the state fosters innovative technological solutions that can reduce harmful emissions from the state’s transportation sector while fostering cleaner and greener communities across the state.”

In addition to reduced emissions and noise, electric buses offer significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs. The buses are also built for accessibility with improved step height, expanded front door widths and a flatter entry ramp for passengers with mobility devices. Columbia’s Intercampus Shuttle is free of charge for members of the local community with disabilities, the elderly and their companions, as well as individuals with service animals.

Manufactured by New Flyer and operated by Academy Bus, the new electric buses began operating on Columbia campus shuttle routes during the summer of 2018.