Electric buses are being prepared for Ketchikan and Metlakatla

Ketchikan buses are parked outside the borough maintenance facility. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ketchikan and Metlakatla have received federal funding to put electric buses on the road. In Metlakatla, the bus will travel to the ferry terminal, located 14 miles outside of town – a first for the community. In Ketchikan, three electric buses could be in circulation by 2024.

Keolani Booth, who sits on the Metlakatla Tribal Council Verified, says there has never been a dedicated bus running to the terminal, and many people either have to walk or ask for rides.

“It’s a test – we have 14 miles of road here,” Booth said. “There are a lot of people who are on foot, who don’t have a car.”

Booth says that between trips to the terminal, the bus will help seniors in the community get around – and he expects fares to be affordable.

“We have a lot of people who are on fixed incomes – a lot of the older people in the community,” he said. “We consider all of that and try to accommodate those people’s budgets.”

Metlakatla Mayor Albert Smith said he was unsure when the buses were due to arrive. The Metlakatla Indian community is still applying for a $400,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

In Ketchikan, a $4.2 million grant will put three electric buses on the road. Transit Director Kyan Reeve said they will likely hit the streets in late 2024.

The new buses will come from the same manufacturer as the Borough’s current diesel buses. Reeve said it could avoid a lot of problems – like those reported with Juneau’s first electric bus.

“What they did was present a bus that was built from the ground up, that was very new, that didn’t use any of the same parts as their current fleet, and that also didn’t have any background,” Reeve said. “So it was a very young bus company that developed their bus, and so the issues weren’t all with the drive systems, the battery systems – that sort of thing. Many of the problems were just simple bus problems.

Transit department manager Stephanie Bushong said 80 percent of the parts for the new buses are identical to current Ketchikan buses, which are made by Gillig. She said it would save money even for simple repairs like windshield wipers.

Bushong says the grant also covers bus charging equipment.

“We’re going to have to upgrade the transformers, there’s a lot of work to do in that area,” she said.

Neither Ketchikan nor Metlakatla have placed any orders yet. In Ketchikan, Reeve said there is still some work to be done to determine if buses are the right choice for the community.

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