Campus Transportation

Harvard Buys Electric Shuttles

Harvard University has invested in four electric buses, representing nearly a third of its fleet. The vehicles will replace four similarly-sized bio-diesel vehicles already operating on campus. Each of the new buses, from Proterra, is 35 feet long (similar in size to the current buses), has a seating capacity of 29 and runs on a 450-kWh battery.

Along with the buses, the institution has also invested in an 800-volt infrastructure. The shuttles will be plugged in during off-peak hours overnight, using 150 kW charging stations that will allow the vehicles to be "fast-charged" in about three hours.

The fleet transports about 600,000 students annually across Harvard's campus. The shift to electric is expected to lower greenhouse gas emissions by more than 110 tons annually. Their use will also reduce the amount of air pollutants, providing health benefits to the community.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric motors are exceptionally quiet, provide stronger acceleration and require less maintenance than traditional engines because they have fewer moving parts and fluids to change. Electric vehicles can convert more than three-quarters (77 percent) of their electric energy into power at the wheels while typical gas-powered vehicles convert less than 30 percent.

"We're always looking for ways to improve the efficiency and sustainability of our fleet," said John Nolan, managing director for the university's Transportation Services. "This is a transformational project that can have a tremendously positive impact in the community and significantly move the needle towards a more sustainable future."

"I am thrilled to see Harvard modeling the pathway to electric bus fleets to improve public health and address climate change as part of the broader commitment to be fossil fuel-free by 2050," noted Elsie Sunderland, professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at Harvard's Department of Environmental Health.

"Harvard takes its responsibility of being a good neighbor seriously," added David Harris, director of Transit & Fleet Management. "One of the great things about this project is that the buses will produce much less noise and operate far more smoothly as they navigate the densely populated streets of Cambridge and Allston."

The project was supported with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and a loan from the Harvard Green Revolving Fund.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.