Electric buses are in the works for Ketchikan and Metlakatla

exterior: city buses parked outside a garage.
Ketchikan buses sit parked outside the borough maintenance facility. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ketchikan and Metlakatla have received federal money to get electric buses on the road. In Metlakatla, the bus will run to the ferry terminal, which is 14 miles outside of town — a first for the community. In Ketchikan, three electric buses could be on the road by 2024.

Keolani Booth, who sits on Metlakatla’s Tribal Council checked, says there’s never been a bus dedicated to running to the terminal, and many people have to either walk or ask for rides.

“It’s a hardship — we’ve got 14 miles of road out here,” Booth said. “There’s a lot of people that are on foot, that don’t have cars.”

Booth says that between trips to the terminal, the bus will help the community’s elders get around — and he expects the fares to be affordable.

“We have a lot of people that are on a fixed income — big portion of the community’s elderly,” he said. “We consider all of that and try to fit within those people’s budgets.”

Metlakatla Mayor Albert Smith said he isn’t quite sure when the buses are due to arrive. Metlakatla Indian Community is still in the process of claiming a $400,000 Federal Transit Administration grant.

In Ketchikan, a $4.2 million grant will put three electric buses on the road. Transit Director Kyan Reeve said they’ll probably hit the streets in late 2024.

The new buses will come from the same manufacturer as the borough’s current diesel buses. Reeve said that could prevent a lot of problems — like those reported with Juneau’s first electric bus.

“What they did is introduced a bus that was built from the ground up, that was very new, that didn’t use any of the same parts as their current fleet, and also didn’t have a track record,” Reeve said. “So that was a very young bus company that developed their bus, and so the issues weren’t all with the drive systems, the battery systems — those type of things. A lot of the issues were just simple bus issues.”

Transit department manager Stephanie Bushong says 80% of the parts in the new buses are identical to Ketchikan’s current buses, which are made by Gillig. She said that will be a cost-saver even for simple repairs like windshield wipers.

Bushong says the grant also covers the charging equipment for the buses.

“We’re going to have to upgrade transformers, there’s a bunch of work that will need to be done in that realm,” she said.

Neither Ketchikan or Metlakatla have placed orders yet. In Ketchikan, Reeve said that a little more work still has to be done to determine that the buses are the right choice for the community.

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