South Side gets its first electric CTA buses

Two electric buses rolled out Tuesday on the No. 63 route, one of the CTA’s busiest. It runs between 63rd/Stony Island and Midway Airport and is the second route to feature electric buses.

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An electric CTA bus charges in a station at Navy Pier, Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 16, 2022. Electric buses are being introduced on the South Side.

An electric CTA bus charges in a station at Navy Pier last August. Electric buses were introduced on the South Side this week.

The South Side is getting its first all-electric buses.

The CTA rolled out two electric buses Tuesday along the No. 63 route, one of the transit authority’s busiest.

The route, between 63rd/Stony Island and Midway Airport, is the second one to feature electric buses.

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The Chicago Avenue No. 66 line has been operating electric buses since April 2021, according to a CTA spokeswoman. That route, which runs from Austin to Navy Pier, will continue to run the rest of CTA’s 25 total electric buses.

The CTA’s battery-powered fleet is still paltry compared with its 1,900 total buses, which mostly run on diesel fuel, although a couple hundred of them are diesel-electric hybrids.

The CTA plans to transition to an all-electric bus fleet by 2040, part of its “Charging Forward” plan. Last year, the CTA got a $29 million federal grant to bolster its electric fleet.

Besides buying more electric buses, which are nearly twice as expensive as gas-powered ones, the CTA has upgraded three of its seven bus garages to handle electric buses.

An electric bus charges at a Navy Pier charging station in August 2022.

An electric bus charges at a Navy Pier charging station last August.

The CTA’s 74th Street Garage, near Damen Avenue, is the latest to become all-electric ready. Part of that included training all of the garage’s bus drivers.

The CTA said it prioritizes equipping garages that serve neighborhoods with the highest air pollution.

We “look forward to expanding the benefits of all-electric buses, especially to those communities that are disproportionately affected by air pollution, which are often those with low-income and minority populations,” CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. said in a statement.

In the statement, CTA officials called the transition to all-electric buses a “complex undertaking” that will require a new charging station infrastructure and significant electrical power upgrades.

Many CTA buses travel more than 100 miles a day, but typical e-buses can only run for 70 miles without charging, according to the CTA.

To keep those buses running longer, the CTA has installed quick charging stations along its routes. At the east end of the No. 66 route, at Navy Pier, quick chargers there can add about 1% of battery power per minute during a bus’ typical 10 to 15 minute scheduled stop.

The CTA was the first major transit agency in the country to use electric buses for its regular service when it added two environmentally friendly buses to its fleet in 2014.

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