Cities and urban centres have risen to the challenge of cutting transport emissions by rapidly electrifying public transport. eBuses, trams and fleets are commonplace in cities from San Francisco to Stockholm, Amsterdam to Glasgow.

With the age of electric public transport well underway, Heliox shares its view on what the future holds for public transport electric mobility, and which changes are likely to be made ahead of global 2030 emissions reduction targets.

Sharing electricity and grid management

Increased electrification of services means more electric vehicles on the road and as a result, greater demands for electricity will be placed on the grid. This is set to become an even more important consideration for public transport operators (PTOs).

“Previously, one of the biggest concerns for fleet operators was how to reorganise their depot, city or town to accommodate electric transportation,” says Heliox Head of sales Europe for Public transport, Jeroen den Boer. “As markets evolve, this shifts to questions like how best to share the limited amount of electricity that’s available for charging to a never-increasing demand?”

This is likely to be a key issue in cities where electric transport is more advanced, as they look to include more services they want to electrify. “It starts with public transportation but soon we also see this working with waste disposal projects, the police force, fire department, ambulances, all those services will be electrified. And they are all controlled more or less by the same authorities,” says Jeroen.

This represents a challenge for the local authorities trying to balance the needs of all these stakeholders in the best possible way to avoid electricity shortages for critical services. “The world is going to have to share the electricity that is available,” says Jeroen, “Sharing grid connection, infrastructure and transformers in business districts is just the start.”

Yet putting legislation in place to mitigate these kinds of sharing needs is a slow and lengthy process. With services like truck electrification ramping up at super speed across the EU, the private market is faced with a sharp rise in demand for electricity that will demand smart sharing of infrastructure and energy become a priority in future.

Examples of this are already exist - including projects Heliox has partnered on.

“Heliox worked on with First Bus in the UK, in the city of Glasgow where we installed an electrification programme,” Jeroen explains. “Part of their depot it has a semi-public entrance for 3rd parties that they contracted who are also able to charge there during the day.” “This allows for a depot charging strategy to charge your eBus fleet at night because there's no demand for bus transportation. Then during the day, as most buses are en route, you don't need your depots pace that much. And that's an ideal moment for other parties to charge. So what First Bus did was they fenced off part of their depot and made that semipublicly available to contracted parties.”

For First Bus this was beneficial as they were able to share all the infrastructure that they had invested in with two other services. This not only enabled them to monetize their charging depot, but helped run more EV powered services for Glasgow.

This is a pioneering example of how public services charging can evolve to accommodate more vehicles with the same amount of infrastructure across the world.

Longer routes on electric buses and less opportunity charging

Another development encouraging electrification of public transport is the increased range of eBuses batteries leading to longer route coverages.

 “Having an increased range makes it ever easier to make the leap towards electrification. You are even more sure that your vehicle is going to make the route and come back to the depot without having to charge some where along the way and that charging on the on route - charging that's really a difficult part”, says Jeroen.

This is known as opportunity charging, which requires charging points being installed in the public domain which deliver additional charge to eBuses while en route to help them finish their journey.

“Opportunity charging is becoming less and less necessary which creates a better business case on electric fleets for operators, because having to put chargers in the public domain is costly and your operation is slowed by the fact that the bus needs to stand still and get charged. We’re now in a place where that’s no longer necessary for many routes. Now, 80% of eBus routes can make their journey on a single charge. So that's a big step. It means charging strategies can shift from opportunity charging to exclusively charging on-site in your depot, which gives fleet operators more control.”

Automated driving in charging depots

The long-anticipated arrival automated driving could also be a reality by 2030, though not on public road but inside charging depots.

“Right now it seems like it’s far away, but actually at eBus and eTruck depots, automated driving is not too difficult to integrate onsite,” Jeroen explains.

“Automated trucks and buses can follow an on depot routine on washing, parking and charging without involving a driver. This is huge benefit because like everywhere there is a scarcity of personnel. So operators have a strong incentive to have their buses moved autonomously. This can create a cost saving thing whilst also finding a way to overcome the labour shortages in the sector.

This and many other changes are on the horizon for electric vehicles, as the sector grows, and becomes more dynamic. Governments, transport authorities and operators will need to be agile and swift to enact the necessary policies and legislation to support these changes and help secure a cleaner, safer more efficient future of electric public transport.

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