Despite buying a “lemon,” Juneau, Alaska, isn’t done with electric buses

  • Keeping city buses running is not easy, especially in cold climates. Swap the diesel for electrons and you have a new set of challenges, such as: B. a shorter range and slower loading times.
  • Juneau was the first Alaskan city to purchase an electric vehicle for its bus fleet, but repeated problems with a wiring harness have often sidelined it. According to the manufacturer Proterra, it is working on a more robust cable harness for the city bus.
  • Despite this EV speed bump, Juneau has ordered another seven electric buses. This time, however, they are being manufactured by Proterra competitor Gillig.

Colder climates can present a challenge for many electric vehicles to perform well, but it’s not just temperature that’s causing problems for Juneau’s public transit system. The Alaskan capital announced plans to add a 40-foot, all-electric passenger bus to its fleet in 2021, but the zero-emission model has recurring mechanical issues that force Capital Transit to garage the bus for weeks.

This version of Proterra’s electric bus travels to the city of Victoria, British Columbia.


The problem is a faulty wiring harness, which the transit company has repeatedly tried to fix, but sometimes still disables one of the bus’s two motors. Alaska Public Media (APM) reports that the bus manufacturer Proterra Juneau still has to supply a spare part.

Nevertheless, electric buses are coming to Alaska. While Juneau was the first company to purchase an electric bus for its bus fleet, the city of Anchorage trialed an electric bus in 2018. Smaller communities like Ketchikan and Metlakatla have also announced plans to add electric buses to their fleets.

Range decreased with temperature

When Juneau’s only electric bus was able to carry passengers around the city, drivers and city officials sang hymns of praise. As familiar to EV drivers, bus Drivers liked the smoother ride, and the bus required less maintenance. However, in cold weather, the 440-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery’s 210-mile range dropped to 100 miles, and the battery took longer to charge. Capital Transit Superintendent Rich Ross told APM that the faulty wiring harness and other issues are not deterring the Juneau Transit Authority from electric buses.

“There will be learning curves along the way,” Ross said. “Although this bus was a lemon – something of a lemon – we also understand that technology improves by leaps and bounds over time.”

Proterra agrees.

“When introducing a new technology, we expect that there will be some learning curves along the way,” the company said car and driver. “These insights allow us to improve products. In this case, we are working to design and source a more robust wiring harness to support the Juneau bus.”

Juneau’s faulty bus is a 2020 model, and in 2022 Proterra announced that its 40-foot ZX5 electric bus could be fitted with a 738.0 kWh battery.

“This newer product is now the preferred choice for communities in northern climates to buffer the additional heating needs of extremely cold weather days,” said Proterra.

Gillig Ev Bus

Gillig electric bus.


Capital Transit has already ordered seven more electric buses, but this time they come from one of Proterra’s competitors, Gillig. Gillig also manufactured the 17 diesel buses used in Juneau’s fleet. In places with intense winter weather like Missoula, Montana, Gillig’s electric buses are already in use. The company announced last month that it received the highest score ever for a battery-electric bus, 89.5, in the Federal Transit Administration’s bus testing program in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Passing this reliability test basically meant that Gillig’s electric buses could qualify for purchase with government subsidies. Gillig also announced that 45 transit companies across the country would use funds made available in part through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to purchase Gillig’s low- and zero-emission buses. The Proterra Bus remains in Juneau’s fleet.

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