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IndyGo plans to buy more electric buses from Red Line bus manufacturer

Technology fix keeps Red Line buses charged, on the road
Posted at 7:41 AM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 10:35:10-04

INDIANAPOLIS — IndyGo plans to buy new electric buses from the same manufacturer it has yet to pay for those used on the Red Line.

IndyGo's payment has been delayed. In 2019, WRTV reported that the buses could not hold their promised charge of 275 miles per day, especially in cold weather.

The public transit agency will unveil a new plan Thursday night to buy 28 buses from China-based bus manufacturer BYD to service the Purple Line, which will connect Indianapolis and Lawrence.

Construction on that line will begin in the spring of 2022 with service beginning 2024. The cost of new buses will be $37.8 million. The IndyGo Board will vote on this proposal Thursday, and the City-County Council will weigh in on the proposal in December.

The decision to pursue more buses from BYD comes as IndyGo still hasn't paid $38.8 million for 31 Red Line electric buses. Despite that, IndyGo officials say there are three reasons why they are comfortable continuing its business relationship with BYD.

"When you look at the market, the nearest competitor for this bus doesn't get close to the range that we are getting," said Carrie Black, IndyGo's director of communications.

"Number two, the system that we have is designed very specifically for these buses. So the 20-plus stations that we have along the Red Line and the stations planned for the Purple and Blue Lines were designed so that they line perfectly with this BYD bus. And then, finally, BYD has proven to be a good partner. They are motivated, they haven't received a dime for the investment so far, so they are motivated to make sure these buses work, that they work well and that they live up to their promise so that they can receive payment."

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IndyGo has been working with BYD to improve the charging situation with the Red Line buses for months.

BYD is investing $4 million in new technology known as enroute inductive charging.

The company set up power-charging zones embedded in the road in two or three locations. Two are along the route of the Red Line. To support the future Purple Line, another will be installed in Lawrence.

In Indianapolis, one is installed at East 64th Street and College Avenue. The other on the south end of the Red Line on South Madison Avenue.

All the Red Line buses are equipped with a charging device that allows them to line up and hover above the technology embedded in the road. Within minutes, the bus driver is alerted that batteries are recharged and the vehicle can move forward and return to its route.

IndyGo has seen some progress with the technology as inductive charging helps buses achieve more than 200 miles per day, which is not the promised daily mileage of 275.

Veteran IndyGo operator Jeffrey Howard has been driving a bus for 13 years.

"I love the job," Howard said.

He believes the inductive charging will ensure riders get to their destination without delay.

"Much better, much better because I don't have to worry about losing charge or if I'm going to make it the south side or not," Howard said. "When the battery would lose charge we had to get another (bus) or they would have to stop and it would interfere with our on-time performance."

In 2019, WRTV Investigates exposed a problem with the Red Line.

We found that BYD sold buses that could not maintain their promised charge. In November 2019, we documented the number of buses unable to complete their route because they ran out of power.

BYD set up a temporary charging station to help with the situation, but its new investment may be the key to getting paid and making sure its electric buses remain reliable and consistent.

"BYD has been a good faith partner," Black said. "You're right in the beginning these buses were not living up to their promise. We were disappointed and we're working with BYD to remedy those problems."

No timetable has been made public as to when BYD will get money for the Red Line buses.

"We have not paid BYD a dime for these buses and we will not pay BYD a dime until we are confident that they will get out of these buses what we were promised and what we expected to get out of them," Black said.

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