The EV company Proterra has been steamrolling over the diesel bus market, and it looks like downtown Chicago is the latest proving ground. Proterra has just inked a lease deal with the A-list real estate company JLL that will enable it to ditch a whole fleet of diesel shuttle buses in favor of all-electric buses.
JLL actually gets a big green twofer out of the deal. The electric buses are more economical to operate, and the zero-emission angle provides JLL with a way to claim credit for helping Chicago reach its decarbonization goals.
Yes, EV Tech Can Move Buses
Just a few years ago, the idea of operating a bus or any other large vehicle on 100% battery power would have been a head-scratcher.
However, EV technology has been catching up, and Proterra has the stats to prove it.
Proterra has been steadily — and rapidly — increasing the range of its EV battery pack. The latest iteration, introduced just last month, tops out at an impressive 600 miles.
According to Proterra, that’s long enough to satisfy practically every urban bus route in the country.
That’s a big deal because it means that cities can switch over to electric buses without having to invest in new charging infrastructure.
Electric Shuttle Buses For JLL
The deal with JLL is a significant milestone for the EV mass transit market, for several reasons.
One is that it provides both JLL and Chicago with first-timer bragging rights in the EV field.
The new fleet of 10 electric buses is the first all-electric shuttle fleet to operate in the US.
The new fleet also demonstrates how cities can motivate corporate partners to pitch in with urban clean air goals on a bottom-line basis. Until now, Proterra’s clients have mainly been public sector transit agencies. The lease arrangement provides the private sector with a chance to earn green cred in their communities.
Another significant angle is that the new fleet solves the “last mile” issue for cities. The last mile is a big issue in the urban commuter transportation sector. A city can fit only so many rail stations in its downtown, leaving many commuters to reach their destination by diesel bus or taxi if they can’t make it on foot.
The new EV fleet will provide JLL tenants with a way to complete the last leg of their journey emission-free. The fleet will replace the existing diesel buses that currently ferry tenants from commuter train stations to two buildings managed by JLL, Prudential Plaza and Aon Center.
These just happen to be two of the tallest buildings in the city, which lends a high profile to the switchover from diesel to EV tech.
Talking EV Tech With Proterra
Proterra’s Senior VP for sales and marketing, Matt Horton, graciously took some time out of his schedule to speak with me earlier this week about the new JLL deal.
He mentioned that the buzz over JLL has already motivated talks with other companies (more on that in a future article) interested in leasing, rather than buying, electric buses:
“JLL is a fantastic partner to launch this program with. They have a very strong presence in all the markets we care about.”
According to Horton, JLL had been kicking around the EV idea with Proterra for several years. When Proterra came up with the lease arrangement, that finally broke the logjam.
“Customers in the commercial market prefer leasing,” Horton explained.
Horton also explained how the electric buses provide JLL with a marketing edge for attracting tenants, while creating a ripple effect that could attract more users to mass transit:
“The electric buses make public transportation a much more efficient mode of transportation for their tenants. They’re leveraging existing infrastructure, and they could also increase the use of mass transit.”
Proterra has had a very active year, and Horton sees signs of a tipping point in the EV bus market.
“Proterra is in the mode of scaling up,” he said. “The BEV bus market is coming on very fast. This is a really exciting time.”
As one hopeful sign of things to come, Horton’s experience in pitching EV tech demonstrates that the political divisions of today are no match for the bottom line benefits of replacing diesel bus fleets with EV tech:
” …from a company perspective, one of the most things we’re most proud of is that our customer base spans every kind of state. Whether red or blue, everyone agrees: if you can clean the air in a cheaper way, there’s nobody out there who doesn’t want to do it.”
Photo courtesy of Proterra.