Island Explorer tests electric buses in Acadia National Park

BYD USA electric bus (35 feet, 22 seats) parked at the Village Green bus stop in Bar Harbor (NPS Photo by John Kelly)

BAR HARBOR, MAINE – The National Park Service (NPS) is partnering with Downeast Transportation Inc. (DTI), to test the feasibility of converting all or some of the Island Explorer bus fleet from propane to electric power. The pilot project is 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 (NREL).

Two manufacturers, BYD USA and Gillig LLC, are providing American-built electric buses at no cost to DTI to operate on Island Explorer routes for two weeks in September. BYD USA is providing an electric bus from September 18 – 23, and Gillig LLC is providing an electric bus from September 25 – 30. The public will be able to ride the electric buses as part of Island Explorer’s regular service. While the electric buses are operating, data—such as average speed, energy use, and range traveled—will be collected remotely by NREL. The information will be analyzed and used to help determine the necessary battery capacities, locations for charging stations, and potential changes in route and service design. Some of the challenges to incorporating electric buses into the Island Explorer fleet are elevation changes, length of routes, and lack of charging infrastructure, which are different from urban areas where electric buses typically operate.

“The electric bus pilot is the first step to understanding how the Island Explorer could gradually convert from propane to electric power over the next six to eight years, which would be a major step in the development of the bus system,” said Superintendent Kevin Schneider. “We appreciate the great collaboration among Downeast Transportation Inc., Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the bus manufacturers in conducting this pilot.”

Since 1999, Island Explorer has provided Acadia National Park and surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula with fare-free bus service for visitors, residents, and employees alike. The goals of the bus system are to protect park’s resources, provide a high-quality visitor experience, and alleviate traffic and parking congestion in and outside of the park. The current fleet of 32 propane buses is scheduled to be replaced over the next six to eight years.

Vehicle technology has changed significantly over the last two decades, and electric buses are being incorporated into fleets across the nation. President Biden’s Executive Orders #14008 – Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, and #14057 – Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability set a goal for procuring and incorporating clean and zero-emission vehicles into Federal, state, local, and Tribal government fleets by 2035 to address the impacts of climate change.

Additional Coverage:

Electric buses are now helping to transport people around Acadia National Park – via Maine Public

Testing Electric Shuttle Buses At Acadia National Park – via National Parks Traveler

Acadia National Park testing electric buses – via FOX22 Bangor

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