Resort Committee Talks Electric Fleet Transition Plan

OCEAN CITY – Officials say they continue to explore the transition of the resort’s transit fleet from diesel to electric.

On Tuesday, Transit Manager Rob Shearman presented members of the Ocean City Transportation Committee with an update on the department’s plans to convert its diesel fleet to electric. While no specific mandates have been placed on local transit systems, he said the town will begin working with a consultant to create a transition plan.

“We have met with a consultant to begin what is called a transition plan,” he said. “This is still not anything that we would be committed to, but it is something that would allow us to start seeking grant funds for battery electric buses, charging infrastructure, things like that.”

In August, Shearman presented committee members with a statewide zero-emissions bus study for Ocean City Transit. That report estimated the town’s transition to total $99 million in capital costs and $1.9 million in annual operating costs.

In Tuesday’s meeting, Shearman noted that the proposal failed to provide a distribution of costs. He noted that officials estimate costs to be spread out over a period of 12 to 15 years.

“The normal replacement of our fleet of 48 buses is 12 to 15 years, and that is what we will be looking at, rather than retiring perfectly good, serviceable diesel buses prior to their end-of-life criteria,” he said. “We would simply replace each bus as it aged out.”

Utilizing a transportation plan, Shearman said the town would have a better idea of what infrastructure is needed. Public Works Director Hal Adkins added that it would also support any requests the town made for grant funding.

“If you don’t have a transition plan don’t apply for grants because you are not going to get it,” he said.

Shearman said the department’s next steps include developing a transition plan and working with Delmarva Power to determine how much power is needed to support an electric fleet.

When asked if the transit department had areas set aside for charging infrastructure, Adkins said there were a few options.

“We could run power back in and modify the bus barn and you could have charging stations within the building here while buses are static during evening hours,” he said. “There’s also technology available where you can do charging stations at each end of town.”

While acknowledging the complexities of transitioning to an electric fleet, Shearman said the town faced fewer impediments, as its fleet operated close to the public works facility on a daily basis. Adkins also acknowledged the value of transitioning to electric.

“When you consider where you may have a bus terminal surrounded by residential development, like at the north end, there are great benefits to getting rid of the diesel fleet,” he said.

Councilwoman Carol Proctor questioned the lifespan of batter operated buses.

“I know most batteries in the electric realm, when you buy them, they are only warranted for eight years,” she said.

Shearman noted that while the buses had a lifespan of 12 to 14 years, the batteries typically lasted eight to nine years. He said it was a cost the town should consider.

“The good news is that overall maintenance on electric motors is generally less than diesel combustion engines,” he added. “So there is an offset.”

Adkins said the cost of the batteries could also decrease as technology improves.

“There’s a lot of research being done in battery technology now to address that,” he said. “So if one was to say, hypothetically, a new battery in a transit bus was going to be $32,000, I see a day when it will be half that.”

Mayor Rick Meehan applauded the department’s planning.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Shearman this week also provided members of the transportation committee with a proposal to implement electronic fares and mobile ticketing. A technical memorandum provided to the committee showed a total cost estimate of $1.14 million to outfit the entire fleet, with opportunities to have federal and state funding offset up to 90% of the cost.

“It’s not an inexpensive solution, but there are some grant funds available periodically,” he said. “We’ll be on the lookout for those opportunities.”

Shearman said the town had worked with a company in the past to provide electronic payment on the town’s transit fleet. However, the product was discontinued after the company left the transit sector.

“I have been exploring solutions,” he told the committee. “I’m targeting a company that can offer a very simple and visitor-friendly solution that offers a very fast validation process. I think those two facets are critical for finding the solution that best fits what we do and what our needs would be.”

Shearman said he would provide the committee with more information as it became available.

“I’m not in the position right now to make any formal presentation,” he said. “However, it is a top goal of mine for Ocean City to be able to accept electronic fares and mobile ticketing in the near future. Certainly not for the summer of 2024, but hopefully 2025 if possible.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.