Opposition questions suitability of electric buses

As the country gears up for the arrival of the 50 additional buses — 45 diesel and five electric — this month-end, Opposition spokesman on transport Mikael Phillips is calling for substantial data that will prove that the EV buses will be suitable for the island’s topography.

His call comes after the Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced in Parliament on Tuesday that, in an effort to enhance public transit services, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) will receive a boost by adding 50 new buses.

Bartlett said the infusion of modern and environmentally friendly vehicles will improve the JUTC’s capacity to serve citizens and enhance the public transportation system’s overall efficiency and reliability.

Speaking with Jamaica Observer on Thursday, Phillips said while the move is a step in the right direction, there is insufficient information about how the EV buses will work in the country.

“I think that we are lacking in data in what is suitable for our environment and our topography. We know that it can’t run the routes such as Papine to Gordon Town or even the Half-Way-Tree to Stony Hill,” said Phillips.

He also said adequate expertise to maintain the e-buses is a concern.

“Even though we know that electric buses have lower maintenance compared to those with a combustion engine, they still require servicing and these are different from the regular engines we would have in diesel buses. So are we doing training, or even started training of mechanics that can service these buses? Because it is not as if they won’t come with their own problems,” he said.

“Also, are these five buses we are getting in the first place with a service contract and for the local dealer? Do they have the capacity to deal with these electric buses? Because this is the first of its kind in Jamaica.”

In the meantime, Minister of Transport and Technology Daryl Vaz said there are plans being developed with partners and suppliers for the repairs of these buses.

“Please note, however, the introduction of EV buses into the operations of the JUTC is part of the diversification of our fuel sources. As you are aware, we currently have a fleet that is primarily energised by diesel. The EV pilot that is now being undertaken is intended to gather data to determine the feasibility of an expanded EV programme,” Vaz said in response to Observer questions.

He also noted that there is currently one charging port to accommodate the EV bus in operation and three more will be installed for the five incoming buses.

“As we progress with the pilot programme, we will have a better understanding of what additional equipment will be required. As is the norm with these things, our maintenance staff will be exposed to extensive training before they work on the units by our dealers and suppliers through the transfer of skills and information,” said Vaz.

In September, 20 compressed natural gas-fuelled units will also be added to the fleet under a joint arrangement with private sector partners.