Banner image of an electric trolleybus

Battery Buses

Battery-electric vehicles are not new. In the early days of automobiles—around 1900–battery electric cars were very common, even outselling their gasoline counterparts. Their cleanliness and quiet operation were key selling points. In the early 1900’s, New York was home to a fleet of over 1,000 battery-electric taxi cabs. Battery-electric garbage trucks were used for decades in parts of the U.K., battery operated fork lifts are a well-known fixture in warehouses, and battery operated golf carts have ferried golfers around golf courses for decades.

What is relatively new, however, is the adaptation of battery-electric power to large, heavy vehicles with long ranges and large passenger capacities, as well as the management of battery-electric traction systems with sophisticated modern electronics.

Battery-electric buses have made considerable inroads into public transit in the past ten years, and have often been heralded as a key to a zero emission future. There is no doubt that battery-electric buses can and will play a role in the electrification of public transit. How big a role remains to be seen, as the technology is still undergoing development.

Current experience with battery-electric buses has been mixed. In some places, they have worked well, while in others, their performance was deemed unsatisfactory. Problems experienced with current battery buses generally relate to insufficient or variable range (usually much less than advertised by the manufacturer), structural issues, failure of specific components, and parts supply issues.

Battery buses cannot necessarily be deployed on just any transit route in the same way as transit agencies are accustomed to doing with diesel buses. In order to deploy battery buses successfully, the route needs to be suitable for the capabilities of the vehicle. The number of kilometres that the vehicle has to travel in a day cannot exceed the maximum range that the vehicle is capable of in the worst service conditions, as determined during testing by the operating agency. It may be necessary to provide charging infrastructure at convenient points along the route to charge battery buses, meaning that additional time has to be allotted in the schedule for this. It may take more battery buses than would be necessary with diesel buses or trolleybuses to provide the same level of service. In other words, battery buses can require additional operating expenditures. Large transit associations like APTA, CUTA and UITP and major transit publications have made information available to help transit agencies plan appropriately when implementing battery buses.

Photo of a battery electric bus

In general, experience shows battery buses without en-route charging facilities can be successful on relatively short routes with small to medium passenger volumes. Towns and small to medium-sized cities in parts of the southern United States have recorded satisfactory experiences with battery buses. They can run heavier duty cycles if the conditions are tailored to the abilities of the vehicle, and en-route charging may be required.

Full size battery buses are typically very heavy vehicles owing to the weight associated with the batteries. Attempts to reduce the weight of the vehicles by using lighter construction materials and composite frames have led to structural problems such as cracking frames and the like. While such problems may be overcome by manufacturers with time and experience, these issues are certainly not unknown on today‘s battery buses.

It is often believed that battery buses can be deployed as a replacement for diesel buses without the need for large infrastructure investments. This is simply not the case. Any sizeable fleet of battery buses will require a substantial investment in charging facilities and electrical infrastructure in the garages/depots. The power requirements for charging a large fleet of battery buses at one location will be significant. En route charging facilities may also have to be provided.

The production of the batteries and related components needed to make battery buses run is not without environmental and ethical issues, even though these issues may not be on the same scale as issues associated with internal combustion vehicles. The mining of the metals needed to make batteries is an environmentally harmful process. For instance, the production of just one Tonne of lithium can require around 2 million litres of water.1 The mining of cobalt in the Congo, which has a global monopoly on cobalt mining, is done by slave labour. These metals are non-renewable resources, similar to oil.

The disposal of batteries also creates another set of issues. Because batteries contain toxins and harmful materials, a proper disposal network must be in place to deal with them when they are life expired. This becomes more critical as the number of battery-electric vehicles grows.

As battery-electric technology becomes more mainstream, some of the current reliability issues will no doubt be addressed, and transit agencies will become more adept at planning for their implementation. But in the long run, battery buses are unlikely to provide a universal solution for weaning public transit off of fossil fuels and internal combustion engines.

1 “Lithium batteries big unanswered question”, BBC, January 5, 2022 (, accessed February 26, 2024).

Further Information

We discovered the following video and found it very informative:
(Credit: City for All)


The following articles illustrate some of the issues that have been encountered with currently available battery buses:

The City of Edmonton scrapped a sizeable electric trolleybus system in 2009 under the claim that it would save $60 million over ten years by doing so. While it is not clear that any of these claimed savings materialized, by 2024, the City had accrued losses of over $82 million through a failed investment in battery buses:

St. Albert, Alberta recently had a similar, though less dramatic, experience with battery buses:

In a move that reminds us of Edmonton, Philadelphia replaced electric trolleybuses on two routes with battery buses. The battery buses had to be pulled from service due to various issues not long after they were commissioned. They have since to return to service:

Oslo, Norway has had considerable trouble with their recently purchased battery buses, particularly in cold weather:

Asheville, North Carolina has called its battery buses off as a multi-million dollar loss in light of numerous software and mechanical issues that are keeping them off the road:

Vermont’s battery powered school buses have struggled to operate in the winter months: