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This morning at 10:00a.m., TARC, the Transit Authority of River City, and Mayor Greg Fischer will officially launch Louisville’s next generation bus, the all-electric Zero Bus, which replaces the Toonerville trolley buses that run on familiar circuits throughout Downtown Louisville.

The ten new buses are part of TARC’s 40th anniversary celebration, and will be among the largest fleet of zero-emissions buses in the county—quite impressive. TARC used primarily state and federal funds to purchase the buses—almost a million dollars each—and the infrastructure to support them, which cost about $11 million. The old diesel-powered trolleys were TARC’s most polluting vehicles, and the Zero Buses are expected to save the agency $110,000 annually on fuel and $200,000 more on maintenance. That’s about $4.2 million in savings over the 16-year lifespan of the buses. The Toonerville trolleys were introduced to Downtown in 1987 as part of revitalization efforts.

I stepped on board a Zero Bus as crews were training to use the new technology last month, and the interiors look like a modern bus with rows of forward-facing seats. The Toonerville buses used wooden benches facing both the front and the aisle. Other major benefits of the Zero Buses are expected to be its nearly silent ride and its significant environmental savings:

(Courtesy TARC)
(Courtesy TARC)

“The air quality improvements with the electric vehicles will be significant,” TARC Executive Director Barry Barker said in a statement at the fleet’s unveiling last year. TARC estimated that “the five oldest trolleys combined now emit a total of about 1,135 pounds of carbon monoxide in a year, compared to zero emissions from the all-electric buses.” Among the new buses goals are improving air quality Downtown.

Two charging stations—one for each route—can fully charge a Zero Bus in about 10 to 15 minutes. That charge is good for six laps of the Main & Market street loop, or about 30 miles. Buses can also pick up a partial charge on each lap for shorter charging times. One charging station is located on Third Street just south of the Main Branch Library and the other is on West Market Street in front of the ZirMed Tower parking garage. Strangely, the Market Street charging station has been outfitted with the frills of a Victorian-looking lamp post (in front of a concrete parking garage no less) while the SoBro station is a simpler metal pole. We’re pretty sure the Victorians didn’t have a pole typology for electric bus charging stations, and the result looks a little odd.

The new Zero Bus fleet represents a major step forward for transit in Louisville. According to TARC:

Louisville will be the first city in the Midwest and upper South to put these vehicles of the future on the road. Our fleet will be one of the largest of its kind in the country and made in America. Since 2010, Proterra, Inc. of Greenville, S.C., has manufactured 38 of these vehicles for 11 transit agencies in eight states.

Keep an eye out for the new buses circling Downtown and let us know what you think. Hop on if you can, as the Downtown Circulator routes are free to use.

The new Zero Buses will also be used on the First Friday Trolley Hop on Main, Market and Fourth streets. (Frankfort Avenue trolley hops will continue using the Toonerville buses for now.)

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

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