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Greenlink fleet getting greener with six new electric buses on the way

They’re quiet, cost-effective and better for the environment, and Greenlink has plans to put six more of them on Greenville County roads.

Last month, Greenville Transit Authority was awarded a $5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s 2020 Low or No-emission “Lo-No” Bus Program. It was the public transportation system’s fourth grant in as many budget cycles, allowing Greenlink to put more green in its bus fleet.

“Having an electric bus, even at this point in the game, you’re on the leading edge,” says James Keel, the City of Greenville’s Public Transportation Director. “The technology is changing very rapidly, almost like cell phones.”

Greenlink debuted its first electric buses in April 2019 and has since realized all the benefits of the battery-operated technology – reduced emissions, lower fuel costs, and a quieter ride inside and out. Greenville’s electric buses get 150-200 miles and seven to nine hours per charge, Keel says. But one of the greatest benefits is having the bus maker, Proterra, in the system’s backyard.

“It’s a relationship that traditionally you don’t see with a bus manufacturer,” Keel said. “Having a manufacturer that is local and wants to partner with you to share in your success was extremely important. It’s helpful to be able to go over to the factory and see a bus on the (production) line or go pick up parts.”

The City of Seneca also operates Proterra electric buses and bills itself as the first city in the nation to be a totally electric bus system. CATbus in Clemson also has Proterra electric buses in its fleet.

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Greenlink’s six new Proterra buses – scheduled for delivery in late 2022, will be 35 feet in length rather than 40, allowing better maneuverability down some of Greenville County’s more narrow streets. Additional buses also will help Greenlink realize plans for improved frequency and new routes.

“Having shorter vehicles that match the footprint of what we have right now in Greenville will make it more versatile and more usable in our service area,” Keel said. “Additional buses also will help us increase frequency of service. With these vehicles in place, and pending operating funds, customers will see bus service at each stop every 30 minutes rather than one hour.”

The case for public transportation

Historically, local and state funding for public transportation has been a low priority in most regions of South Carolina. But Keel says he’s optimistic about the future and sees public transit as part of the solution to the region’s growing pains.

“When you look at the way Greenville is growing and what is planned, we have problems right now as far as congestion and road capacity,” Keel said. “Public transit can be a solution. Ultimately, we want to be a system that serves everybody, not just a system for those who depend on it. Our vision is a system that is more user-friendly with 30-minute service, later hours and more routes.”

Trolley system continues to grow

After a pause in service due to COVID-19, Greenlink resumed its trolley service in the City of Greenville in early June with a redesigned trolley route network.

Greenlink owns and operates four of the popular red and blue open-air trolleys. The North Main Route and South Main Route run on Thursday and Friday from 6 to 11 p.m.; on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m. The Attractions Route, which connects the Greenville Zoo to Heritage Green, runs on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m.

Operating during COVID-19

Even in the midst of a pandemic, people are still riding the bus, Keel says.

“People still have to get to work, the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, so we’re a critical infrastructure piece for a lot of people.”

In addition to regular nightly cleanings, all buses are evacuated in the terminal three times each day and high-touch surfaces are sprayed with a disinfectant. Greenlink also has posted signage that encourages social distancing and distributes free masks to passengers at the transit center on W. McBee Avenue in downtown Greenville.

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