By integrating Proterra’s all-electric transit buses, Texas A&M University is forging a more sustainable future that will benefit both Aggies today as well as the next generation.
Every day between 35,000 and 38,000 members of the Texas A&M community use the university’s transit buses commonly known as the Aggie Spirit fleet as a mode of transportation both on and off campus. The Aggie Spirit fleet, operated by Texas A&M Transportation Services, is a central part of the Texas A&M experience.
In July 2021, Texas A&M added three new Proterra battery-electric buses into the fleet, becoming an early adopter of electric vehicle technology within the higher education space. With funding from a BUILD grant secured by Brazos Transit District, the university was able to purchase the buses.
The Transit Manager, The Office of Sustainability, and Student Drivers all play an integral role in aiming to grow and strengthen the Aggie community. They see vehicle electrification as a solution to do that.
THE TRANSIT MANAGER
Something as simple as reliable transportation can often mean the difference between a student finishing college and not. Transportation Services allows Aggies to balance attending classes while juggling multiple responsibilities by getting them from point A to point B.
“My job is to ensure buses are operational and to oversee the staff that performs our service for the Transit unit,” says Justin Tippy. Tippy wants to provide the best and most comprehensive service to meet the community’s transit needs as a transit manager. “The main reason I support the integration of electric buses is for the further learning and research of alternative means of powering vehicles. The key reasons for us to explore these solutions were funding ability and the ability to learn more about the costs, operations and functionality of these solutions,” he says. Soon after integrating the electric buses Tippy and his team discovered that the buses operate at a lower cost than their diesel buses.
THE OFFICE OF SUSTAINABILITY
The Office of Sustainability is a student-driven organization that promotes sustainable practices both on and off Texas A&M’s campus in academic and non-academic settings. They’re responsible for university-wide sustainability strategic planning and implementation, overseeing the Aggie Green Fund, and educating students, faculty, and staff about sustainability.
To Texas A&M student and sustainability technician, Madelyn Lewis, “The transition to electric vehicles is inevitable. I am a proponent for this transition because of the environmental impacts, particularly in the lens of global anthropogenic climate change in part caused by the greenhouse effect.”
The organization’s advocacy played a significant role in bringing all-electric Proterra buses to Texas A&M’s campus. “A livable future is for all is at the heart of our Sustainability Master Plan (SMP),” states Kelly Wellman, director of The Office of Sustainability. Wellman assisted in drafting the successful grant application that secured the university’s all-electric buses. “We work to respect, protect, and preserve the financial, environmental, and people resources that make Texas A&M and our community so great, not only for today but also for future generations of Aggies.”
THE STUDENT DRIVERS
For the successful integration of electric buses into a fleet, properly training bus drivers is essential. It’s important that everyone understands how the technology works and how driver behavior affects energy consumption. With nearly 85 percent of Texas A&M’s transit employees also being students, most are juggling work, classes, extracurricular activities, and more. However, even with jammed-packed schedules, these student drivers were able to easily transition to operating electric buses.
To Texas A&M student driver and dispatcher Christopher Thomas, Transportation Services is more than a job but a community, “Over the past year I have grown very close with many of my coworkers. I would consider them good friends who I spend time with outside of work. It’s really great interacting with them because as drivers we all understand each other’s commitments to work and all share similar experiences in our daily lives.” Thomas adds during the electric bus training, “The other drivers were always available to help if I needed them and as was I for them.”
“The transition from diesel to electric was rather smooth,” says Marshall Shake, Texas A&M student driver. Marshall notes that everything is very similar to how diesel buses operate or is clearly marked and rather intuitive (i.e. buttons/switches that are located in different areas of the bus are clearly labeled for ease of use). “The trainers were well-equipped to answer any questions about the electric buses and were very knowledgeable on the subject,” he adds.
Rather than being an obstacle, Shake believes electric buses are providing real benefits to drivers. “With Proterra, specifically, the composite body makes the vehicle much stronger than its diesel counterpart. The composite body is much better at absorbing an impact in the event an accident was to occur. This makes the vehicle much safer to ride and operate.”
Driven by the strong desire to protect and enhance the Aggie community, Texas A&M plans to continue to adopt and embrace vehicle electrification. Though early in its electrification journey, the university is driving toward an all-electric future.