Grant to give University of Utah transit buses of the future
Transit • New electric shuttle system said to be a year or so away.
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A new federal grant aims to make the University of Utah home to first-in-the-nation transit buses of the future —¬†electric shuttles that recharge without wires from underground pads while they wait for passengers.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday a $2.7 million grant to the Utah Transit Authority and the university as part of $100 million in grants to promote innovative and clean-fuel transit projects.

The project is described as "the first U.S. demonstration of wireless power transfer technology, which allows vehicles to be charged from under the roadbed during the course of their daily operations."

It is based on technology developed by Utah State University's Energy Dynamics Laboratory, and marketed through a spin-off company called WAVE (Wireless Advance Vehicle Electrification). USU currently has a working prototype, but the U. will be the first to have a fleet on a regular route.

Alma Allred, director of commuter services at the U., said the shuttles will be used on a new route cutting through the middle of campus, while current shuttles generally drive around the edges of campus.

He said current diesel and natural gas buses have been considered too noisy or dirty for the cross-campus route between buildings.

James May, a vice president of WAVE, said buses will be "a 40-foot, full-sized, low-floor transit vehicle of the sort UTA runs in their routes in Salt Lake City. ... The purpose of this project is to demonstrate our readiness to implement systems like this for transit agencies."

He said an electric pad will be buried beneath asphalt near the stadium TRAX station. Another pad attached to the underbelly of buses will allow them to recharge while waiting to pick up passengers.

"The roadway is snowplow-able. And the primary pad is safe from snow and water and rocks and vandalism because it is under the pavement," May said. "Only a couple of minutes per route will the bus recharge."

He said that will reduce the amount of batteries needed, and the weight of the buses.

"Traditionally you would have to have an enormous battery on this bus, charge it overnight and go about your daily operations slowly depleting your battery," he said. "This system allows for a battery that is small enough that all you really need is a battery that is barely big enough to do one route in order to come back and charge again," he said.

He added, "Once you have a smaller battery, the bus weighs less — which means you need less battery to move around."

May and Allred said it could be about a year before the new buses and route may appear at the U.

Peter Rogoff, of the Federal Transit Administration, said Thursday that his agency "is tapping into American innovation and ingenuity to develop and build leading-edge energy-efficient transportation technologies. These continued investments help combat the pain commuters feel at the gas pump and curb the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air we breathe."