Port Arthur receives $5M grant to improve public transit through more electric buses, innovation

Published 2:03 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The City of Port Arthur will soon be adding four new electric buses, one overhead charging station and an additional bus route after obtaining a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The $5,001,700 in funding was announced Monday, said Mayor Thurman Bartie, and will be used for “propelling the city’s public transportation system towards a cleaner, greener future.”

The grant continues years of efforts to expand services offered by Port Arthur Transit while transitioning the fleet to predominantly electric buses.

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“This USDOT grant actually showcases the federal government’s commitment in supporting sustainable transportation initiatives that prioritize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and actually creates a more environmentally friendly future, for us even here in Port Arthur,” Bartie said.

“And Port Arthur Transit’s vision actually aligns perfectly with these objectives, and the generous grant will play a pivotal role in realizing the ambition of this plan.”

Transit Manager Ivan Mitchell said the department began preparing for the grant in March. The funds are combining with a 2021 $200,000 grant from Entergy to purchase four buses, an overhead charging station that will be located at the Port Arthur Public Library and showcase an additional route near the intersection of U.S. 60 and FM 365 to allow easier trips from places such as Walmart to Central Mall.

Mitchell said Port Arthur Transit operates 10 35-feet-long electric buses in addition to a few diesel- and gasoline-operated vehicles.

As more electric buses have been added to the city’s fleet, he said, they’ve noticed a significant cost reduction.

On average, Port Arthur Transit was ordering two shipments of fuel each month. Now, Mitchell said, those orders are done approximately one every three months.

“It’s more sustainable,” he said. “It’s cleaner for the air in the city. It’s less maintenance on our maintenance staff.”

The addition of a new route could also open up the opportunity for employment. Port Arthur Transit averages 32 employees — from mechanics, drivers and administrative staff. In addition, fuel, oil, parts and other needs are purchased from local vendors when possible.

“We do a lot of local buying,” Mitchell said.

The service building located on 4th Street was completed in 2021 to replace the former building that was nearing 80 years old. The construction was part of capital improvement projects set aside by PAT that included work on drainage areas in high-flood areas.

The city lost one electric bus to flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

With hurricane season underway, Mitchell said the department has backup generators that would charge the fleet in the event of a power outage. At 100 percent, an electric bus can run up to 180 miles before needing to recharge, depending on factors such as the number of passengers, air conditioning usage, the driver and the weather.

Port Arthur has mutual aid agreements with other cities such as Dallas and Austin that allow for charging as needed should the buses be needed for evacuations.

Once the new charging station is installed at the library, it will need only 15 minutes to recharge a bus enough to put it back in service.

“It’s going to work really great once we get it all built,” Mitchell said. “It’ll be the first in this whole region of somebody doing something like that.”