Photo of: Photo by Derek Redd
DRIVE — The electric school bus, dubbed “The Beast,” has been in service at Ohio County Schools for nearly a month, with drivers noting that the vehicle “needs some improvements,” said David Crumm, the school district’s superintendent.
The Beast has been in use since November 4 by Ohio County Schools as part of a pilot program with bus manufacturer GreenPower of South Charleston, West Virginia.
The school district will continue to have the bus through December 23.
The bus previously had two different drivers who drove the routes in the district. A third rider with a third route should start later this week, according to Crumm.
“We found some areas where it worked well and we found some areas where it was difficult,” he said. “In colder weather … it demands more from the battery when we have to heat.
“One day when we came back it was 9% (electrical charge) in the morning, so in the afternoon we took the regular bus because it didn’t have enough time to charge.”
The Beast’s range on a full charge is around 130 miles – but that’s without the use of heating or air conditioning. That shortens battery life to about 80 miles, according to mechanics at the bus shop.
The charger currently in use at Ohio County Schools’ transportation garage takes eight hours to fully charge, Crumm explained. However, other chargers are available that could cut that time down to as much as two hours if the school district wants to use the electric school bus route.
The electric bus has shown it has the power to scale the local hills, Crumm continued.
“Word can get around,” he said. “As we drive up the hill to Wheeling Park (high school), there’s an area where it’s not going as fast as it could because it saves energy.
“Due to the size and low height of the bus itself, we had to optimize some routes.”
He noted that the school district is fortunate in that the pilot program will provide administrators with a wealth of information as they consider future electric bus purchases.
“Is it something you go with half a fleet? Is it something you drive with a whole fleet? Is it something you strategically go with three, four or five and place in routes that you know will work all the time? asked Crumm.
He said the drivers seem to like the buses.
“At the same time, we’re taking notes on some things and preparing to share them with GreenPower,” Crumm continued. “In January, all of our drivers will meet with GreenPower and talk about some of the things we’ve seen.”
Drivers have noticed that neither the ground under the driver’s feet nor heat is generated in the door area and cold air flows in, he adds.
“On colder mornings, heat might blow on their heads, but not on their feet,” Crumm said. “The whole idea of this pilot program is to go back to GreenPower and say these are the things that are looking good and these things could be tweaked and let’s talk and work together.”
Other counties currently participating in GreenPower’s pilot program are Clay, Grant and Monongalia counties.