May 2001 Rant
I recently saw a small article in the Richmond paper that brought back memories. So I hunted through a stack of old papers and found an article I wrote for a newsletter back in February 1997. The article was about electric buses. They were being hailed as the future of mass transit in cities. In 1997 an electric bus cost six times as much as a diesel powered one. They carried 112 batteries that needed to be replaced frequently. And while they were touted as being pollution free, Virginia Power was busy burning a bunch of coal to power the buses. VDOT gave $2.8 million dollars in grants from 1994 to 1997 to further the usage of electric vehicles.
So just what was that small article buried deep in the paper about? Charlottesville was selling its three electric buses to Portland, Maine for $30,000. That's right $30,000 for all three. But then they haven't run since mid-1999. And Charlottesville only paid $525,000 for them in 1997. It seems that the buses would not run in hot or cold weather or in the rain and all those batteries needed recharging so often it wasn't worth the effort to even use the buses. That's why they were "retired" after less than two years of use. Richmond "retired" its electric bus fleet in 1997…right after they bought them.
I wonder why this didn't make the headlines. When those buses were purchased with our tax dollars they sure did. Photos of these wonder buses appeared in the newspaper with quotes from local politicians, VDOT managers and Virginia Power officials. Photos were left out of the Charlottesville announcement and I couldn't find any quotes from all those important people. I was looking for a headline like "Electric Buses Have Cleaned Up the Air In C-Ville." Here's another: "Electric Buses to Clean Air in Portland…they've done their job here." Apparently nobody wants to say much of anything about the millions of dollars wasted on this mess.
What happened to the $2.8 million VDOT spent on electric vehicle research between 94 and 97? How much did they spend in all over the years? How much did the federal government spend on electric buses? The C-Ville buses were largely purchased with your federal tax dollars. Why isn't some politician calling for an investigation of this waste? Why didn't they review the history of electric vehicles and discover that they make good golf carts but not good cars, trucks or buses? And what happened to those electric vehicles that many auto manufacturers produced and tried to sell? I can answer that one; no one bought them. No one wanted a car that cost more than a gas-powered car that came equipped with a limited travel range and high maintenance. But then those buyers weren't working for the government.