Transit agencies are turning their attention to electric vehicles (EVs), and not just light-duty cars and trucks, but heavy-duty electric buses. This transition to EV bus fleets can reduce air pollution and noise levels, increase efficiencies and reduce the need for transit maintenance. Advancements in charging capabilities are also opening the door to a growing fleet of EVs.
Transit agencies around the world are making this leap from diesel to EV fleets — some to remain compliant with various regulations, others to meet market demands and many to achieve both compliance and meet demand.
An EV bus fleet utilizes new infrastructure and technology. Before a city can have electric-powered public transit, school buses and urban delivery trucks, it must thoughtfully consider the required upfront infrastructure. This includes the adoption of smart infrastructure well in advance of deployment.
When it comes to their fleet — and regardless of whether it’s diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG) or EV — transit bus operators have two main efficiency concerns: space and operations. Even with the profound benefits of EV buses, the electrification of a fleet could be impeded if these two factors aren’t as efficient or more efficient than the current state.
Diesel bus fleets require little time to refuel and clean after a route. They’re often parked side by side in a lot overnight to minimize space consumption. This parking method requires all buses to be fueled and ready for either short- or long-haul routes.
EV fleet adoption challenges some of these norms associated with current diesel fleets. Each bus would need to be fully charged at a designated charging station, which could take 4 to 8 hours. To accommodate for these shifts, smart infrastructure solutions that advance charging options have risen to the top for EV buses to meet each transit agency’s unique space requirements and operational processes. Among such solutions:
Elevated charging platforms — If parking space is at a premium, platforms can be constructed over the entire parking area with charging cables running down to buses. Though the platform itself would require support structures, it would still take up less real estate than free-standing charging stations.
Sequential charging — Another option to save space is to install charging stations with sequential charging dispensers. While most stations can only charge one bus at a time, these enhanced stations could sequentially charge two or three buses overnight saving precious real estate on cramped bus lots.
Inductive charging — Offering a wireless alternative, this innovative charging technology places plates underground — at bus stops on-route, or at the depot — to administer charges to stopped or parked buses without the need to connect to charging stations. This offers another way to save real estate because aboveground chargers, and the bollards that protect them, would be unnecessary.
Rapid on-route charging — Using flash chargers installed on roofs at bus stops or transit centers, short-haul buses can automatically latch to the charger when stopped to load and unload passengers. This brief charge could continuously top off bus batteries throughout their routes, eliminating the need for overnight charging stations at the depot.
Long-term success of EV bus fleets relies on strategic and thoughtful charging infrastructure, and transit agencies that embrace the challenge could realize significant benefits. As charging options continue to improve and infrastructure updates are effectively implemented, EVs have the potential to surpass the efficiencies of diesel buses, whether in operations, space or funding, if implemented effectively.
The path to electric bus fleets can be challenging, but with a comprehensive electrification road map fleets can be converted efficiently and cost-effectively.