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JAUNT to debut first-ever all-electric transit vehicle

Central Virginia’s JAUNT is adding what it says is the first all-electric vehicle of its kind operated by a public transit system.

The van is a response to local environmental efforts and policy changes, as well as JAUNT’s commitment to adapt to new technology, according to CEO Brad Sheffield. It will begin transporting senior citizens and residents with disabilities and supporting other area transit riders Feb. 3.

“Electric vehicle technology is an example that has become well-established,” he said in a statement. “It’s time for commercial transit to get on board with electric vehicle technology.”

Members of the public can view the van at 10 a.m. Wednesday at The Shops at Stonefield in front of the Regal Stonefield movie theater.

The vehicle, a Ford Transit Passenger Van, can seat 10 passengers and has a range of up to 120 miles on a charge.

Electric, full-size buses are coming to some public transit service providers in Virginia, as well as some school divisions, but it’s unclear if any public entity is operating an an all-electric transit van in its fleet.

JAUNT, which is owned jointly by and provides service to Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson and Buckingham counties and the city of Charlottesville, has commuter routes and operates the area’s paratransit service for Charlottesville Area Transit under a contract with the city.

In Albemarle, the Board of Supervisors last year adopted a resolution to establish community-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The county is also in the process of developing the first phase of a Climate Action Plan, which will include identifying goals and strategies to achieve reductions.

Charlottesville City Council last year also adopted a new goal for reducing greenhouse gas output.

JAUNT’s electric vehicle can use Level 2 and Level 3 chargers, which are 220 volts and 500 volts, respectively. Level 2 will be available at the JAUNT offices, and can charge the vehicle in about 8 to 10 hours. Level 3 is known as fast charging, and can provide an 80 percent charge in under an hour.

Sheffield said there are some Level 2 chargers throughout the area and plans for Level 3 chargers are in the works.

“We need to start planning for fast chargers,” he said.

JAUNT’s mechanics have received training on electric vehicles, and Sheffield said the van isn’t much different to drive than the current gas-powered fleet.

Sheffield’s response to inquiries about what would happen if the van runs out of battery power on the side of the road is lighthearted, but serious.

“We’ve never had any vehicles run out of gas on the side of the road,” he said.

JAUNT estimates that it will cost about 8 cents per mile to charge the vehicle at national average electric rates, and said that a similar combustion-engined transit vehicle that gets 12 miles per gallon would cost about 15 cents a mile to fuel.

The heater, air conditioner, lights and wipers can use up additional battery charge, but JAUNT says that none of these factors will impact the vehicle’s range.

JAUNT plans to transition its entire fleet to electric vehicles, and Sheffield said the service is asking for funding from the state and local governments for six more electric vehicles in the upcoming budget, which would begin July 1.


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