Across North America, transit agencies are updating their fleets with low and zero emission buses. Electrification provides environmental benefits but can also drive economic benefits through lower operations and maintenance costs. The Infrastructure Lab hosted a panel discussion with five North American transit leaders to hear about some of the key lessons for a successful electrification program. Here are the main takeaways:
- Local Leadership: Commitments from government through consistent funding and capital investment are critical. To be serious about electrification, cities must also be serious about transit and provide infrastructure that benefits users like more frequent service and dedicated bus lanes.
- Learning from Pioneers: Electrification represents a big upfront investment in education, consulting, design of sites, location of charging infrastructure. Transit agencies such as TransLink, New York MTA, and King County Metro, together with vehicle and charging partners have a lot of data to help guide transitions and learn from previous lessons.
- Return on Investments: High up-front investments can yield long-term savings through reduced fuel and maintenance costs over a 12–15-year life cycle of the vehicles. In determining the optimum return on investments, electricity rates and salaries of drivers need to be factored in to deliver the best business case.
- Systems Transition: Electrification is not just about new vehicles, but new systems including locating and building charging infrastructure, energy systems, software and control systems, garage facility redesign, and route optimization. Systems need to adapt to the transition which may mean designing new routes or schedules to account for battery range for example.
- Procurement Approach: Agencies need to consider how they can achieve best value through their procurement process which may require a shift in approach to look at factors like total cost of ownership and system energy efficiency. Joint procurement mechanisms and/or procurement frameworks – where suppliers can regularly update with advances in technology – are better suited than traditional approaches to procurement.
- Systems Interoperability: Agencies use charging infrastructure, systems, data, and vehicles from different suppliers. The market remains fragmented as technology advances, but it is important that transit agencies ensure interoperability is a requirement of procurements to ensure all parts of the system can communicate.
- Optimizing Power: Smart charging architecture can reduce the overall capacity requirements on the system and reduce costs. By using data and managing the available capacity to use the least amount of power, agencies can save on chargers, maintenance, and help determine the optimize size of battery for a particular route.
- Integration with Utilities: Integrating the system into the grid and using networks and software to monitor and manage the grid is critical. Agencies must develop good relationships with local utilities early in the process to better understand requirements for energy system overhauls, and grid management.
- Building Skills: Electric buses require different skillsets to understand the technology and software involved in electrification, ensure there are enough electrical engineers, and also ensure that route planners and schedulers are available to optimize service levels and consider battery range.