Publisher's Perspective: For electric buses, the future is here

Posted on May 2, 2016 by James Blue

This month, METRO features a look at all-electric bus technologies, particularly  battery-only buses. Our coverage notes that thanks to the rapid evolution in energy storage, this type of bus propulsion is becoming increasingly common in transit and shuttle bus services. But, is it ready for “prime time,” meaning all-day, fixed-route transit service? More on that question later.

Billions of research dollars pay off
The rapid growth in battery buses is thanks in large part to the massive investments that the U.S. federal government and other nations have made in energy storage technologies. These investments have been ramped up in the past decade, partly as a result of concerns about climate change and energy security and partly as countries and businesses began to see real economic payoffs from these investments. Not least among these benefits has been in fully-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, including buses.

Their growth in public transportation has been nothing short of astonishing. A decade ago or so, hybrid-electric buses were just beginning to be ordered, comprising just 1% of the new transit bus market, according to APTA. Today, it’s nearly 18%, and according to some market analysts, expected to be more than 40% of the new market, globally, in five years.

The capabilities and performance of these buses is one reason accounting for the growth. Only a few years ago, these buses could only travel  a few hours without needing another charge. Today, some are claiming 160 miles, roughly one-half the specified range of diesel-powered transit buses.

Can they hold up to transit service demands?
Although these improvements are laudable, much more development is on the way from manufacturers including BYD, CCW, New Flyer, Nova Bus and Proterra as you can see in our story, which begins on page 20.  Improvements in rapid-charging infrastructure are necessary and en route. And there are agencies, including Lancaster, Calif.’s Antelope Valley Transit Authority, who are taking the leap into this technology with an eye on both their bottom line and their civic responsibility to be more sustainable.

Those who are interested in seeing and hearing about the latest models and infrastructure, will get a chance at the APTA Bus Conference in mid-May, as well as during the electric bus technology session at BusCon 2016, Sept. 19 to 21 in Indianapolis.

Agencies that acquire these buses, though, need to structure their procurements in a way that builds in a milestone-based process. This includes engineering and acceptance testing, as well as the field service, warranty and other post-delivery support from manufacturers, structured in a spirit of true supply partnership, which any new rapidly evolving technology demands.

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