By Adam Jones, University of Alabama

With nearly $8 million in federal transit funds, the University of Alabama, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, will replace a quarter of its transit system buses with electric buses, reducing emissions and further positioning UA and the region as a hub for the electric vehicle ecosystem.

The $10 million project, which includes $2 million in matching funds from UA, also involves installing electric charging infrastructure for eight new Crimson Ride buses. Additionally, UA will work with Shelton State Community College to train workers to service the buses, part of a workforce development initiative to ready Alabamians for the emerging, well-paying electric vehicle industry and infrastructure.

Crimson Ride gives about 2 million rides annually to the campus community, including stops off campus and service on football game days.

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“Modifying the current fleet will allow the Crimson Ride Transit to meet the campus population growth while moving resources where they can be best utilized,” said UA President Stuart Bell. “The transfer to electric buses will reduce emissions and have an immediate impact on our area.”

Part of the U.S. Department of Transit Administration’s $1.66 billion initiative to invest in 150 bus fleets and facilities across the country, UA’s effort will be unique in adding research of electric transit vehicles. Traffic and engineering researchers affiliated with the Alabama Transportation Institute (ATI) and the Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies will install sensors that allow a first-of-its-kind study of how electric vehicle technology behaves and can be optimized in a transit setting.

“This award has tremendous potential to transform our transit system in the direction of renewable energy,” said Dr. Allen Parrish, executive director of ATI. “Electric mobility is a core focus area of ATI, and we look forward to collaborating with UA Transportation Services on this exciting project.”

Electrifying a portion of the Crimson Ride at UA is included in the Alabama Mobility and Power Center’s mission to be a premier research and development hub for creating and sustaining modern mobility and power technologies, developing charging infrastructure, and managing power delivery to support large-scale growth in electric vehicles.

“If society wants to reach zero emissions, we need to move to an electrical vehicle ecosystem while at the same time moving to renewable energy,” said Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, a professor in the UA College of Engineering, executive director of the Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies and ATI’s chief mobility research and development officer. “This initiative not only plays a role in helping reduce emissions, but the research and workforce development components, in partnership with industry, strengthen UA and the Tuscaloosa area in becoming a hub for electric vehicles while ensuring the state’s profile for innovation in electric vehicles is strong.”

The buses, along with the infrastructure and skilled technicians to support the vehicles, will be phased in over the next few years, said James Knickrehm, who oversees the campus transit system as associate director of transportation services.

“Winning this grant is the first phase of our transition plan. It allows the university to lead the way as we not only make the air clearer but develop new technologies and workforce training to enable the state to show the nation the possibilities of this technology,” Knickrehm said. “Transitioning to an electric bus fleet is a significant commitment for the university, and we are fortunate to have strong support from UA’s faculty in our transition.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

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