Zero emissions transport: A guide to electrify your transit fleet

Public transportation has always been an invaluable resource, not only for providing reliable, affordable mobility to the communities that need it most, but also in helping reduce the need for passenger vehicles in areas already congested with traffic and exhaust fumes. And now that EV (Electric Vehicle) technology has reached a point where even a 40-foot bus can reliably run its routes without need for gasoline, the true promise of net-zero public transportation is ready to be realized.

But how do you get there?

It’s no secret that the future of transportation is electric, and that includes buses and other heavy-duty vehicles. However, while the passenger vehicle market is rapidly moving from the early-adopter phase and into the mainstream many larger fleets are still struggling to make this transition a reality. It’s one thing to have a single, low-amp EV charger installed in your home garage to charge your new electric minivan overnight; it’s another to retrofit a decades old depot to provide adequate charging for a fleet of electric buses.

So, to help demystify the process of transit electrification, we spoke with someone who has gone through the steps themselves. Si McMurray is the Director of Procurement for Knoxville Area Transit, a public transit authority in Tennessee that added twelve New Flyer eBuses to their fleet back in 2021, along with six Heliox Flex 180 kW DC charging stations and twelve charging columns.  

Below are a few tips that Mr. McMurray would like to impart to those beginning their transit electrification journey.

1. Get ready and plan ahead

If you foresee e-buses becoming the majority of your future fleet, it pays to prep your site for that EV charging infrastructure now, even if you aren’t installing all the equipment today. Trenching, running conduit, placing switchgears and transformers – all processes that can be done ahead of time, and by handling it now, you cut down the number of times you’ll need to break ground, reducing both the time and the cost of future EV charging installations.

So, even if you are only piloting a single eBus today, try to envision where your fleet will be in ten or twenty years and prepare your location for that additional infrastructure now.

2. Keep all your stakeholders engaged throughout the project

The implementation of an EV fleet on this scale involves a number of different organizations, each with their own set of responsibilities and objectives. There’s the eBus manufacturer, the EV charging hardware manufacturer, the charging management software developer, the site designer, the installer – just to name a few. As the number of stakeholders in your project increases, it becomes more and more important to keep everyone aligned and accountable.  

For example, projects where an e-bus solution is sourced prior to making any EV infrastructure considerations occasionally face downstream issues with interoperability or implementation. Nip these issues in the bud by keeping all your stakeholders involved throughout your project. That way, everyone is on the same page and any complications can be addressed early in the process.  

3. Involve your local utility as a stakeholder from the start

By going electric, your utility takes on a new role as the entity responsible for powering your buses. And while utilities love the prospect of adding all this billable load into their books, supplying the required amount of power to your location could take some upgrades on their side of the meter. By engaging your utility early in the process, you can dramatically speed up your project timeline, as well as defray the need for future site upgrades (see tip #1).

What’s more, many utilities offer special Time of Use rates for off-peak charging. Pair that with the prospect of your organization now requiring exponentially more power during these off-peak hours, and it makes sense why having a few conversations with your local utility early on could pay big dividends in the future.  

4. Understand your on-route charging needs

Your depot is only one part of an efficient, large-scale eBus ecosystem. Buses with longer routes or service times will require on-route charging for quick pick-me-ups to ensure they make it back to the depot at the end of the day. This means curbside high-power DC fast charging, typically with a pantograph connector (see inset image), located somewhere along these longer bus routes.  

A whole discussion could be had just on planning for your EV charging needs (and stay tuned for that article later in the year), but a few simple tips for on-route charging deployment would be:

Calculate your eBus range and route lengths – knowing how far each of your buses can go on a single charge in your environment is critical no matter what, but it is especially important in this instance as it lets you know what routes may need a little extra juice at the end of the day to make it comfortably back to the depot.    

Identify locations where multiple routes converge – to get the most out of your on-route charging, place it somewhere within your network where many buses can access it. Places like shopping malls, train stations, airports, and arenas are great to consider as they often have a high volume of traffic and ample space to accommodate.

Keep your on-route and depot charging connected – networked smart charging systems are helping fleet managers across the globe keep a keen eye on all their assets and manage their energy usage, so make sure you have all your charging stations operating on the same network for optimal visibility.

Full Turnkey EV Charging Solutions

Heliox offers fleet operators of all sizes access to enterprise-ready DC charging stations and solutions. As well as providing the infrastructure, we can support your transition journey – working to develop a roadmap to a sustainable fleet. From small to big projects, Heliox is the right partner for fleet managers to future-proof their businesses Discover Heliox range of products and charging solutions, and start your eMobility journey

Contact us today to learn more.

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