City of Chattanooga - Chattanooga, TN
When the City of Chattanooga realized that traffic and parking would pose major problems with the revitalization of the downtown area and the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium, it decided to investigate the feasibility of electric buses. Although the City had considered trolley cars, diesel powered buses, and other alternatives, it wanted to support environmental efforts and avoid drawbacks associated with the other options.
Chattanooga enlisted a local retired manufacturing executive to perform the feasibility study, and he examined systems in California, England, and Switzerland. Santa Barbara, California was using electric buses; however, they would not perform well in Chattanooga because of significant differences in terrain. England and Switzerland were investigated because of the technologies being used to develop electric buses. Although the technology was available, no one could develop buses with the proper characteristics for use in Chattanooga.
Two buses developed using a new technology were made by a company in California. After initial operation, several changes were necessary, and the retired executive developed a new design incorporating an inventive, lightweight frame design and other weight saving features. The buses were built in Chattanooga.
The City contracts for two buses at a time, and the City participates with the manufacturer, Advanced Vehicle Systems, on the design team. New features and designs have been incorporated to enhance the operation with each contract; for example, changes have been made from DC motors to AC motors to provide more horsepower with the same range. Other changes under investigation include changing to a low voltage motor and incorporating a high efficiency air conditioning system.
The City is a test bed for the new designs where changes can be proven under actual operation, and there is a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) test track nearby. The buses have been incorporated into 15 different cities, and by late 1996, Chattanooga will have 20 buses in operation. At the height of tourist season, up to 7,000 passengers per day ride the nine buses currently in use. Because the City constructed parking garages for patrons to leave cars, there is no fee to ride the buses. The operating funds for the buses come from the parking garage charges.