Greater City Providence

Electric Mini-Buses

The above video highlights a new electric bus developed by Waseda University being tested in Japan. The bus runs 25km (15.5 miles) on one charge, takes 15 minutes to recharge, and the batteries cost approximately $50,000. The bus is estimated to reduce emissions by one third over a conventional bus.

In Providence, the Green Line LINK Trolley runs on a route of approximately 4.5 miles. Meaning a similar vehicle could do 3 one-way runs on a single charge. With charging stations at either end of the line, buses could take turns charging at the line termini.

Photo (cc) AaverageJoe

Meanwhile, in Québec City, the local transit agency runs the Écolobus (Site translated from French by Google). The Écolobus is a free downtown circulator service operated with electric buses. The vehicle’s maximum speed is 33km/h (20.5mph) and they have a service range of 100km (62 miles) or 12 hours. The buses take 8 hours to charge and seat 10 passengers, with room for 10 more to stand. The buses consume C$3.25 (~US$3.16) of electricity per day.

The Écolobus service is a bit different than the current LINK Trolley system RIPTA operates. The design of the bus with a large side door does not allow for fare collection, the bus driver is separated from the passengers in their own compartment. The buses are also smaller, but do the LINK Trolleys ever carry more than 20 people? If they were on a proper headway (say 7-12 minutes) crowds would remain small. The LINK service is a longer linear route, while the Québec City service is a shorter downtown circulator route.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Great post. Did you get the idea from the discussion over at City-Data? Anyway, It’s nice to see that you researched a bit more than the talk that was taking place over there. I’ve ridden the Ecolobus in Quebec a bunch of times and it’s an excellent service. The headway is more like 10-15 minutes up there, but it would be a good alternative to LINK. It’s also a free service which is good for encouraging riders. Furthermore, the small buses are, “cute” which is almost as enticing to tourists as the tacky cable car knock-offs that LINK operates currently. The Ecolobus would do quite well on Newport’s narrow streets too.

  • Overhead power, streetcars, trolleybuses and sustainably produced electricity are the investments we need to be making. $50k batteries sound great but no one is thinking ahead to the fact that massive dependence on batteries will lead to the same or worse environmental and geopolitical ugliness as oil dependency.

  • Again I caution against unthinking embrace of shiny new technology.

    The cost of batteries for a fleet of buses could get you pretty far along installing overhead power, the proven technology.

    Plus, its the economy, stupid. Money spent on batteries is mostly bidding for rare elements. Deploying batteries where not particularly necessary will elevate the price of batteries for locations where simpler power systems are not feasible. The rest of the money spent on batteries goes to overseas factories and patent holders.

    Most of the money spent building and maintaining overhead power will be spent locally on engineering and construction labor.

  • I love how Andrew is an expert on these batteries yet has no clue what ABB is doing with them after market. If you’re going to complain, by all means, HAVE A SOLUTION!

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