That colorful, battery-powered bus residents may have seen or even ridden around Cape Ann over the last week isn't part of the Cape Ann Transportation Authority's fleet — yet.
But CATA officials are exploring options for going to at least one, battery-operated vehicle within the next two years — if they are convinced such a bus and its overall price tag of nearly $900,000 would fit CATA's power needs, route configurations and checkbook.
The bus that CATA was using from last weekend through Thursday had been on a demonstration loan from its manufacturer, the California-based Proterra, said Bob Ryan, CATA's general manager. Proterra, based in the Silicon Valley community of Burlingame, has offices in Los Angeles and Greenville, South Carolina, and is billed as the nation's leading producer of battery-operated transportation vehicles.
Felicia Webb, CATA's interim administrator, said the bus was a big hit during its trial runs here.
"We've gotten a lot of good response," Webb said. "The drivers loved it. Everyone seemed to love it."
Ryan said CATA used the bus last weekend to take riders on the agency's regular "mall run,"which picks up riders at the Rose Baker Senior Center in Gloucester and carries them to and from the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers and the Northshore Mall in Peabody. The bus was also deployed for some regular weekday runs this week, he said.
The bus would bring several advantages, Ryan noted, most notably the fact that it spews no emissions and essentially emits no noise.
"The noise factor is the one that people really seemed to take to," said Ryan, adding that the bus ran for between 6 and 12 hours at a time, then was brought to the charging station at CATA's facilities at 3 Pond Road to get its electrical boost for the next day.
"I don't think (the electric vehicle) industry does enough promotion of how quiet these vehicles are," Webb added. "We get so used to what we hear on the streets from cars and buses, that it's nice to not hear all that in the background."
Both Webb and Ryan, however, noted one factor clouds any immediate purchase — the cost.
Webb said the current cost of a single bus, such as the 40-foot model used in the Gloucester test runs, would run close to $700,000, and the bus would be powered by four batteries priced in the range of an additional $50,000 each.
Webb said she's hopeful that prices will come down as technology advances with time, noting that CATA officials will not likely make a decision regarding electric buses for another year or year and a half. The agency has replaced its buses on a regular schedule. Two new buses merged into the fleet over the past year to bring all of its vehicles except the historic-looking trolleys up to date, she said.
"Because we're looking at a couple of years down the road, what's $700,000 may be $500,000 by then," she said, adding that advancements across the industry are coming quickly.
She noted, however, that CATA needs to get a handle on other issues as well.
"We're looking at the option of electric buses in general, to see if it would be a good fit for us," she said. "Obviously, we'd be looking at the (viability) of the buses themselves, but we also need to look at our building to see if we would have enough power coming in to support them, or whether we could be retrofitted to handle it. Then it would be a matter of talking to our federal and state funding partners to see if they think it would be the best solution for us, too."
Webb, however, said she sees reasons why Gloucester would be a good place for buses without emissions.
"Especially with CATA (service) being on the coast, as global warming and climate change continues to happen, we're looking to see the impact just on and from the ocean," she said. "That, I would think would be a factor. But all of this is something we're looking at."
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or firstname.lastname@example.org.