News & Insights

Successful Electric Bus Deployment Strategies

Play Video about Electric Bus Deployment Strategies Webinar

Click the image above to watch the on-demand webinar.

About This Webinar

Electric transit buses continue to gain traction throughout the US. During this webinar, industry experts will share their first-hand experience with early deployments of these vehicles in dramatically different contexts as far as ridership, climate, and topography. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with electric transit buses and the creative strategies agencies have employed to ensure successful deployments.

This transcript was generated by computer recognition software. Although largely accurate, please excuse any unanticipated grammatical, syntax, homophone, and other interpretive errors that may have been inadvertently transcribed.

Jenna McDavid: 

Good morning or afternoon to everyone, depending where you are welcome to our webinar on electric buses. My name is Jenna McDavid. I’ve been working in clean energy and clean transportation for more than 21 years and the past seven years or so, I’ve focused on strategy and planning to accelerate the transition to zero emission vehicles. My focus has been on EV charging infrastructure, rollout strategies and roadmaps to decarbonize transportation for fleets, regional governments and private clients. And that’s the focus of my practice here at Kimley-Horn. Kimley-Horn is one of the top planning and design consultancies in the U.S. We have more than 5,000 professionals in a range of disciplines across more than a hundred offices. And we’re proud to be named one of fortunes, 100 best places to work for the last 15 years running. One of LinkedIn’s top 50 companies to grow your career. And now in the top 10 of engineering news records, rankings of us design firms.

But that is enough about me. We are here today to talk with some experts about battery electric buses. And before we get started, just a couple of housekeeping items participants will notice that they’re all muted and your cameras are all off, but we still encourage your engagement and ask that you use the Q and A function to ask questions. We’ll get to these after some of the initial remarks, but you can enter your questions at any time and we’ll keep track of them for you.

And finally, this webinar is being recorded. We will distribute a link of the recording via email after the webinar. So I think that’s it for housekeeping. We will get into the good stuff.

So earlier this year, a report from Cal start suggested that the number of battery electric buses currently on order or operating in the us grew by 112% between 2018 and 2021. 

And we all know that those numbers are continuing to grow. In the US the unprecedented infrastructure funding act that passed last year includes substantial allocations for the federal transit. Administration’s lower no emission vehicle grant program and for the buses and bus facilities program that supports transit agencies with zero emissions bus procurement. Similarly, last year in Canada, the federal government announced a multi-billion-dollar investment in public transit. That includes funding to support transit agencies in integrating zero emissions buses into their fleets. This increased funding is fantastic, but the transition from fossil fuel buses to electric buses is not always easy. Agencies may need to change their operations and schedules to accommodate range, limitations, and charging requirements, and may need to adjust maintenance schedules and operator training protocols. And despite this surge in funding there can be some substantial financial considerations. So, this is complex, but it’s accomplishable and many agencies have taken the plunge here at Kimley-Horn. 

We support our transit clients with planning to integrate electric buses into their fleets, with understanding funding availability and completing grant applications, designing the target stations, designing the transit facilities, and then in deploying the buses. But the planning portion of this work in particular is critical. And many agencies are piloting these new technologies with small quantities of buses. And this initial experience provides a testing ground that can support later deployments at scale. And so that’s what we’re here to talk about today. And we’ll hear from three experts who have first-hand experience with electric bus rollouts at their agencies, both from the policy and planning side, as well as from the implementation side. We’ll hear from Ralf Nielsen, director of enterprise sustainability at TransLink and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We’ll hear from Chris Lubbers, the transit director for summit county, Colorado, and from Steve Schupak, EV program manager for Los Angeles county metropolitan transportation authority, also known as LA Metro. 

These gentlemen represent a range of operational conditions in their fleets, a range of fleet sizes and very different local contexts. So I’m excited for today’s discussion. Each speaker will start with a brief intro to themselves and to their agencies with a little bit of background, they’ll share the motivations for electrification within their agencies and the path that they took to incorporate battery electric buses into their fleets. And then we’ll share some lessons learned and then we’ll have plenty of time for conversation and discussion toward the end. So, without further ado, I am absolutely delighted to introduce Ralf Nielsen from TransLink. 

Ralf Nielsen: 

All right. Thank you very much, Jenna. Yeah. I’m director of enterprise sustainability at TransLink. We are both a transit provider and transportation authority in Metro Vancouver, which is a part of the BC lower mainland and the province of British Columbia and Canada. I’ve been in the sustainability field since the early 1990s, before I joined TransLink last year, I was with Collier as the real estate firm doing infrastructure and financial advisory. But then as sustainability consultant for many year new years before that before I get started, Jen, I just want to acknowledge that I’m participating in this webinar from the unseated territories of the slavery tooth, the Squamish, which are the first nations in the BC lower mainland that our office is currently located on. So with that being said maybe a little bit of a background in terms of our, our fleet. 

So TransLink from the transit and transportation regulator and planning side serves a region of about two and a half million people. It serves 21 cities and municipalities first nations and electoral areas. So it’s a very broad geographic area. It has various topography, so there’s the flat lowlands of Delta and the city of Richmond, as well as Langley. And then on the north shore mountains, the topography is very hilly. So we’ve got lots of challenges with re respect to various topography. We have a fleet that is multimodal. So, we have a light rail fleet, which is our sky train, which was built for the world expo in 1986. We’ve continued to expand that rail system. Most of it is overhead above on a guideway some particular tunnels in the region as well. We have 262 electric trolley buses. 

So, we’ve held onto an electric trolley fleet for many, many years, and we’re very grateful that we have held onto that particular fleet. We have 950 diesel buses, most of which are, are hybrid diesels. We have 299 compressed natural gas buses, the majority of which run on renewable natural gas. And then we have about 550 smaller community shuttles and handy darts as well as four Marine vessels, which serve between downtown Vancouver and north Vancouver on the north shore. And then we have six heavy duty locomotives, which run a more of a heavy duty passenger fleet that runs out into the BC lower mainland into the Fraser valley, into downtown Vancouver and which has 44 cars. So that’s a bit of the background on, on TransLink, transportation and transit fleet in terms of our pathway to electrification. It really goes to the back to, to the foundations of, of trends link as an organization. 

So, we have our roots back to 1890 where the Vancouver electric railway and light company founded the establishment of an electric trolley system. And in 1948, that trolley system work transitioned from a rail base to road base. So we, we retained a battery or no electric trolley fleet. So we still have the overhead Ary. It runs probably the, some of the busiest route in Vancouver and the city of Burnaby. And so our, our pathway for electrification started from the origins of the overall organization. I would say that we’re still in the early days of battery electric buses and deployment for the last three years, we’ve been running a pilot together with the Canadian urban transit innovation center. And we are still learning what battery electric buses do, how they perform, how they fit into our overall fleet mix. 

We’re currently running four on a particular route by the end of the year, that particular route will have an additional 15 buses. So the whole route will be electrified, but I would say that, you know transitioning to a net zero fleet, which has really been the motivation for adopting battery electric buses started in 2018 where the organization the organization’s board together with the board of Metro Vancouver. So we have a joint board which relates to the governance of our organization and transportation planning and, and transit. They adopted very aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets. Those targets have since been refined in December of last year. So now we’re on a pathway to get to net zero by 2050 with a 45% reduction by 2030 based on 2010 levels. So our current outlook in terms of the future for the decade is really to get more than 462 battery electric buses deployed by the end of the decade. 

We’re electrifying one of our major new transit centers. We’re going to be electrifying the next major transit center by the end of the decade. We’re building out and, and modifying another transit center to have part of their fleet running battery electric buses. We’re using primarily Depot charging as the solution, but we do have, we have identified specific route that will require on route charging. But battery electric buses are not our only pathway to get to net zero. So we’re a heavy investor in our natural gas fleet. By the end of 2024, we’ll have a hundred percent of that natural gas fleet being run by renewable natural gas. And so we do see the need for other types of technologies and fuels to get to our, to get to our goals. In terms of our lessons learned I would say there’s probably four key ones, which we can get into the discussion later, Jenna, which is one, is interoperability between the, the, the bus, the battery electric bus and the charging stations is really, really critical figuring out the right technologies, the right communications protocols, the right combination between the power of the charger and the size of the battery is really, really critically important. 

So, we’ve learned a lot around in our, in our short pilot, how, what is the right ideal combination and how to work with the industry to make sure that the, the protocols and the technology work quite well together? Second of all, is tech support. You know, this is, this is, these are heavily digitized new technologies that are hitting the road. There is digital infrastructure in the charging infrastructure as well. And so, having tech support in this transition has been really, really important with our partners, both on the, on the fleet side and the, and the charging infrastructure side. And so that’s number two. Number three would be we, we purchased the four battery electric buses a few years ago. We now know that there’s much newer technology out there, but we purchased them as add-ons to our existing fleet. We didn’t purchase them as replacements. 

And what that did though, is that at times staff were reluctant to put those extra vehicles in service. So we, I, I would say that’s not one specific thing, but it’s the overall change management that’s required with respect to getting staff at the operational level at the maintenance level, well educated about what’s coming and making sure that ongoing daily scheduling and operational practices are well in place before the fleet is actually deployed. And I would say the, the last aspect is, you know, educating our policy makers and our stakeholders and our mayor’s council and their staff. There’s a critical part of when we shift towards battery electric buses that, you know, there’s lots of infrastructure involved, right? So infrastructure means capital projects, capital projects mean long timelines. And that also means timelines for approvals and permits and working with our municipal stakeholders to make sure that projects actually get executed in a timely manner. 

So, one of the things that we’re working on actively right now is, is making sure that we can keep the project timelines as they are, despite the fact that these are new technologies, that the folks that are reviewing projects that the municipal side or permits or designs are well aware of what this technology is, how it functions, where the standards are. So making sure that we have good capital project deployment to ensure that the charging infrastructure is done on time. So that, that would, that’s a very brief, quick overview. Jenna. I hope that fits with respect to setting the stage. 

Jenna McDavid: 

No, I think that’s great. And I think there’s a lot of fodder there for discussion, but I’m going to resist my urge to dive into questions for you straight away. And then instead turn the floor over to Chris Lubbers, the transit director for summit county, Colorado to share some similar information. So thanks for that. 

Chris Lubbers: 

Outstanding. Thank you, Jenna. My name’s Chris Lubbers. I’ve spent most of my career in the private sector resort transit ski resort in particular. So I think of me as kind of a ski bump, which I’ve done most of my life. I did move into public sector in the, in the last 10 years, small regional transit resort counties, such as Eagle county veil, beaver Creek ski resort, summit county, Breckenridge, Keystone ski resorts. Hopefully you’ve all had a chance to, to visit those resorts. Currently I, I am in summit county taking care of their regional transportation. You know, feel free to reach out to me for anything soup to nuts. I’ve had my hands on grant writing, procurement installation bringing electric buses online and all the operational issues that go with them being a very small agency I get to have experience with all those things. 

Anyway, our agency does have four electric buses, which is quite a few. We, we possibly could have gotten ahead of ourselves a little bit through exuberance, but that’s okay. We’re learning. Our fleet is 35 buses and, and, and we currently have three in operations. Sorry. I said four earlier, three in operation, and four more on the way with accompanying chargers summit county is a, a mountainous county covering 750 square miles for our transit service area, very rural 80,000 population. We travel, travel longer distances, higher speeds, highway miles and buses typically clock around 30,000 miles a year. Typical driving shift would be 18 hours for the bus switching drivers in and out. And we’re finding around five hours for our current model of EBUS, as I say, current model, because there’s certainly models now that will go much longer than five hours. 

Our elevation is between 8,000 feet and 9,700 feet. So way up here, which certainly does affect internal combustion engines. We find it doesn’t necessarily affect EBUS at all colder temperatures of course do affect batteries. And we have cold temperatures up here and snow covered roads. Our roads are snow covered around, oh, give or take a hundred days per year. So we’ve got experience running both diesel and electric buses in those conditions. We do run snow tires year round, which of course does affect efficiency, mileage, et cetera. So we do have experience with that and we are typically parking indoors and starting buses indoors. I’ve got many years, decades of experience. 

Okay. So we do park indoors. So starting buses is fairly easy for us and with electric buses, we’re all, we are also indoors. Our path to electrification came from the towns resorts and county commission through a, obviously a GHG reduction plan, which I’m sure all of you have ours was to be 100% electrified in our transit fleet by 2050. We are originally planned these as replacements. So the three electric buses that we have now, we’ve now contemplated them more as expansion until such time as we become comfortable with the uptime versus downtime of electric buses versus diesel buses. 

We are now planning diesel bus purchases interspersed with electric. So, we’re still heavily focused on electrification, but we’ve become a little bit more realistic as to how we’re approaching that. Again, we currently have three electric buses and a 35 bus fleet, four more on the way through two grants Depot charging, plugin, Depot charging, instead of overhead, that’s important to us to keep it simple. So we plan on plugin charging really for the foreseeable future. No on route charging as well. And we’ve been contemplating and using a combination of 53 39 low, no, as well as 53 11 grants for our buses. Again, our current buses have a bit more downtime than expected. We actually did recently terminate a contract for purchase with the manufacturer. However, we feel that, and by the way, I won’t speak of any manufacturer names. 

We do feel like the manufacturer is coming along nicely and has models in the future that we absolutely would consider and would consider them in future procurements over 20 months kind of looking at lessons learned and, and performance of our very small electric fleet over 20 months miles driven around 55,000, that’s around 18,000 per bus. So each bus averaged around 917 miles per month, which is very small not even close to what we see with diesel buses, which are, oh about twice that 1800 miles per month for us electric bus is per charge with a 440 kilowatt hour size battery. We are using a 60 kilowatt charger that seems to work well for us with a five to six hour charge. And we typically go around 75 miles. And again, as I mentioned, five hours on a charge with this size of a fairly small battery size and by today’s standards bus, our efficiency is along the lines of most electric buses around two kilowatt hours per mile. 

Our miles per gallon equivalent is 18.9 compared to diesel bus at around four miles per gallon. So we do like that efficiency and really all we need to work on is the downtime versus uptime, which unfortunately over 20 months, 3,700 hours of downtime for the electrics compared to only 925 hours downtime for the diesels, that’s a four times ratio of downtime. So that’s what we’re, that’s what we’re really focusing on. And we do have confidence not only in the existing manufacturer, but future and other manufacturers as well that that really will become in addition to the increased efficiency, one of the saving graces of electric buses versus diesel, our maintenance cost per mile, as you could imagine not doing well with these particular models, 45 cents per mile, compared to diesel it’s about half of that 25 cents per mile. It’s almost twice the cost and maintenance cost. 

Only of course this is not fuel. This is not consumption. This is maintenance cost only is about twice the diesels and as well, interoperability was mentioned. We do focus and want to have good interoperability between chargers and buses. We’ll likely in our next couple procurements have multiple manufacturers trying to use the same Depot plugin chargers from the current manufacturer. What we seem to have had luck with being a small agency is when grant writing, asking for the bus and accompanying charger. So we get the chargers and the bus from the same manufacturer, you know, that can be good or bad in, in a large installation, in a large charging station. You may not want to do that, but we’ve had some, some pretty good luck with that. Some pretty good response from our current manufacturer as well. Chargers aren’t as easy as they sound. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that. They fault out really just as, just as much as the buses do. So, you know, you really need constant monitoring and maintenance of the very, what you would think would be very simple Depot charging, including the buses. So that’s where we are as a small ski resort operator in summit county, happy to, to help and certainly reach out during this webinar and feel free to reach out to me in the future if anyone has any questions. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Well, thanks, Chris. And the same comment to you as Terre. It’s like, there’s a lot there I could dig in on, but we’ll let Steve talk a little bit about his experience with electric bus deployments as EV program manager for LA Metro. 

Steve Schupak: 

Sure. Thank you. So once again, Steve, I’m a, I’m a plus year transit in manufacturing professional I’ve, I’ve kind worked my way through a number of departments, LA Metro from it to, to labor, to operations planning, cetera, and LA Metro is the planner program and operator of heavy-duty transit in Los Angeles county 4,700 plus square miles of service area, 10 plus million people in, in the county. We run a fleet of 2200 CNG buses and 40 45 and 60 foot configurations. We build and operate heavy rail subways. We build and operate light rail within the county. We, we got into zero mission, actually we’ve since 93, the board has really put a push on, on clean air operations and, and they actually made a formal announcement and proclamation in 1993 that we shall operate the cleanest fleet possible. 

And moving from diesel, we move, we soon got into methanol and that proved to be a disaster. And then in the late nineties, we got into CNG and now we’re the largest CNG operator in, in, in the country. We are the third largest trans agency in the second largest bus company in, in the country. And we’ve always kind of been pushing the envelope on, on, on emissions and how to make more passengers move down the road for, for less energy. And so we were one of the first agencies who run a composite shell vehicle, and, and right now that’s one of the workforce of our fleet. We started in CNG we’ve got very, you know, initially it was a disaster and then we got very, very good at it. Now that’s, that’s our workforce. In, in 2015, we applied for a Lono grant for, for some electric buses, with new flyer. 

We got awarded that. And then shortly thereafter we brought on some, some 40 footers and those didn’t work out so well. And, and then we got formal procurements for basically 200 buses. The first 40 are deployed on our what’s called our orange or our J line, which is a dedicated ride away bus, rapid transit line in the San Fernando valley, going between north Hollywood and Chatsworth. It’s about 18 miles from end to end. And we’re running 60 foot articulated buses. We’ve got charging stations at three locations. Plus we have a Depot charging from that. And that was my main project for the last few years where we, we got the contracts awarded separately. We did the construction work and then brought in the vehicles, brought in the chargers and lit the thing off in between July of 2020 when the first bus was deployed on, on a triple run to March of 2021, where we had the whole system converted. 

That’s, that’s been my, a one priority. Our, our path to electrification has, has been driven by, by our board of directors. So like I said, has been focused on improving air qualities in, in LA county. And so we, we started off with our foot in the, in the water with, with a few buses and then they came to us and said, you know, can, can we, can we convert this, this orange line? And we thought about it, like, yeah, I think we can, given current technologies and deep and on route charging, or at least a promise of on route charging. And, and so we went forward and then they, they came out and said, okay, here’s a, here’s a directive, go do it. And get it, get that up and running by 20 by 2020, and then convert our, our silver line, which is another B RT in the other valley, which is twice a distance get that one as soon thereafter. 

And, and while you’re at it convert the whole system to, to zero emission by 2030 as best you can. So that, that set our wheels in motion on, on how we’re going to get there separately from that the California air resources board came out in 2017 or 2018 with the innovative, clean transit regulation that says all transit will be zero emission by 2040. And along the way, they’ve got escalating quantity minimums on percentage of, of new purchases that you have to make year over year have to be zero emission. They were also as foresighted to say, and you get, you get two choices on, on what technology you’re going to use, either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell. So we’re, we’re somewhat, we’re, we’re somewhat bound by, by what, what the state will allow. But, you know, we’re, we’re working towards that, making it work. 

So, like I said, we’ve got four, I got 40 buses from new flower that are running on the orange line. We’ve racked up just under 2 million service miles with that fleet. And the other fleet of 40 footers. Oops, sorry. Is, is coming together because it’s a, it’s a different service area. We have different electrical service providers. And so that’s been a more technically challenging project with, with electrical availability and ownership of, of properties, et cetera. But that one will, will have a hundred, another hundred vehicles from there. It gets little dicey. So, the first two lines, we’re going to be doing a combination of Depot charging and on route charging from there, the other, the other 2100 buses that go on 168 other routes gets way more challenging. And so we’ve hired consultants to help us come up with this master plan on how to, how to deploy, where we can go first and next. 

And, and we’ve, we’ve kind of actually answered the big question. That’s been perplexing managed since the Dawn of time, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Well, actually the charger is the, is the chicken and you, without a charger, you’re not going to get an egg. So, you have to have chargers before you can get buses. And the first two procurements, we actually put it in, in play where we’re buying the chargers from the vehicle supplier. And so we said, okay you can deliver a bus you know, a month after the, the chargers are in place. So, it’s really kind of throttled them back on, on how, and when they can build vehicles, because they love build bit vehicles and they, and that’s the least of our worries. The lessons learned are actually pretty amazing when, when, when we thought about it and where we’re finding issues was not where we thought we were going to have issues. 

The, the primary one is with your utility, if you’re going, if you’re going battery electric, and even if you’re going with fuel cell, you got to get fuel. So I look at, at either electricity or hydrogen as, as a fuel or CG or whatever you need fuel to run the vehicles. And if you are pulling from a municipal utility, that’s one thing. My, the first project I’m blessed to have under Los Angeles department of public of water and power, the mayor Los Angeles was the mayor, was the chairman of our board. And the mayor of Los Angeles is also head of DWP. So we had city hall staff work as intermediaries between DWP on one end and me on the other and all the other agencies within, within the city to push this thing forward. 

And it was the biggest success in the whole project was, was that support coming out of the mayor’s office when we really needed it. And they were, they knew who to go push on and say, go get the power and turn it on, or, or move this application through. And it was, it was so, so successful that DWP actually formed an entire group to handle charging infrastructure moving forward because they looked over and said, yeah, they’re, they’re going to be doing more. This is not a one, one, and done deal. We’re going to be doing this on a bigger scale moving forward. So that was, was the first lesson. The second lesson was when you’re doing any construction you, you’ve got, you’ve got your knowns, you got your unknowns and you’ve got your unknown unknowns and weird other things happen. 

We tried to put 10, we tried, tried to put Depot charging equipment in, in, in our Depot. Okay, well, California it gets hot. It gets dry. And in the, in the summer and fall we burn. And then in the, in the winter, we, we, we flood. So first we were all scheduled up to get a, a, some switch here or a transformer or something from DWP, and we had a fire. Okay, well that gear now was now redirected over to this housing area where they’re out of power. And so that, so now we got to order new back bill equipment. Okay. We get in line, we get that couple months go by and, and we’re waiting. And, and then the floods come in. So the next piece of gear that we had scheduled, well, that’s now going to the flood area. So things like that, you, I mean, how do you plan for that? 

You, you can’t, so you just have, you got to have a thick skin and be ready for, for unexpected, same thing. Whenever you take a shovel to dirt who knows what you’re going to come up with underground. And we, we had, we had pretty good as-builts for these, for these deep or these charging areas that we own, the property we developed it, we own it. We have, we should have as-builts of every wire conduit and pipe in there. And we kept coming up with what I call quote unquote, buried treasure, all of a sudden pink irrigation lines that weren’t known for bringing in reclaimed water for the, for the landscaping. Here’s a, an electrified conduit with MI with low wattage power for some lights that what weren’t never noted. So you know, that’s just one thing in addition to just the normal delays with, with shipping and, and assembly of equipment and so forth. So, whatever you, whatever you think you’re going to schedule and, and open on, be ready to adjust that accordingly. So without a happy to answer any questions you may come up with. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Awesome. Thank you so much, Steve. And, and thanks again, Chris and Ralf for those good introductions. You all raised a lot of, of points that I’d like to circle back on, and we have a bunch of questions flowing in from the chat also and maybe to start kind of a big picture question, and then we’ll zoom in a little bit that there was a question that came in from the Q and a about suggestions or advice for agencies that are in the really early stages of looking into electrification of their vehicles. I certainly have a perspective on that, but I’m sure all of you do too, so I’m not sure who’d like to start. Maybe I’ll nominate Steve since you just finished, and then we can kind of go around the horn. 

Steve Schupak: 

Okay. Do me a favor can you restate that question? 

Jenna McDavid: 

of course so advice or suggestions for agencies that are in the very early stages of thinking about electrifying their buses. 

Steve Schupak: 

Wow. First thing is identifying your, your service. And, and by that, I mean, what’s, what’s your core service, what’s the minimum amount of service that you can handle. And, and one thing that, that we’ve learned is typically with, with Depot charging anything that that’s printed is going to be an ideal condition maximum that you could ever achieve. And the, and the real service on a daily basis varies especially out of batteries operator day to day et cetera, your mileage will vary and varies substantially. One of the things we don’t share with Chris out here is, is extreme cold. If we were to have, if we had to heat the buses internally without diesel heaters, which we’re not allowed to use we would be burning about 40% of our range cheap in the bus warm. 

Yeah. So the air conditioning is more efficient than, than heating and so understand what, where you’re operating and then try to factor that in and, and be ready to have a vehicle that has significantly less utility than what you’re currently operating. And also, year over year, the, the utility of the vehicle is going to degrade. Whereas on a diesel or CNG, it’s going to go 300, 3 50 miles from day one to day to day, 12 years from now. So be ready, be ready for that. And start off with things that are manageable at first 70% of our services, 150 miles or less. And so we’re looking at those we call ’em lines to start off with, to start to deploy vehicles. And even within those the blocks we’re trying to, to achieve manageable blocks of, of, of operation. So, don’t, don’t plan on putting it on the all-day base run at first, start off with baby steps. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Mm-Hmm and it sounds like everyone sort of started with, with pilots, right. Rather than just a full fleet conversion, which makes sense for, for a number of, of reasons and Ralf you’re nodding. Did you have something you wanted to add? 

Ralf Nielsen: 

Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think learning along the way, like Steve mentioned embrace the ambiguity that, that this, this whole transition faces to the organization. You’ve got to, you’ve got to love that ambiguity and make sure that you’ve got the right people who can handle the sense of the unknown and accept the fact that there’s going to be unknown unknowns out there. You need a team to be able to handle that and, and drive that still forward. I would say the other thing, if they’re just getting started, like don’t rule out other solutions, electrification is one pathway to, to zero, you get like net zero, right. Or zero emissions fleet. But you know, often we don’t, we don’t really leverage, or we don’t really, sometimes we overlook our CNG fleet and, and our stakeholders and our funders overlook it as well. 

Right. So the, the potential for natural gas buses burning renewable natural gas is really significant. So, don’t overlook renewable fuels as, as another pathway to zero emissions, right. They, the, the, the other aspect would be that in, in keeping with those two themes is that the future of this transition is diverse, right? There’s, there’s not a single bullet, like there’s not a single solution. It’s going to be multiple solutions and we’ll have to learn along the way. And I think that different propulsion, different fuel and energy sources will all have their sort of role to play, to get to our objectives. So, you know, don’t overlook R and G don’t overlook hydrogen, right. For its simplicity of particular of operations. And so consider all your options and figure out where the different options are ideally placed. That’s, that’s what I would say. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Awesome. Thank you, Ralf. Chris, did you have anything you wanted to add to that one? 

Chris Lubbers: 

Yes. Small to medium size agency? I think the question was as an early adopter, just getting started electrification, what are some things to look for a take advantage of the federal funds? If you can get a bus and accompanying charger try to do that now, especially with being a small operator, you’ll likely have a facility like mine, where you need to install charging one at a time, as opposed to a project that brings online a volume charging station scenario. So, you know, get those buses and the chargers, if you can, through that grant money. And you know, although we’ve, we’ve used the same manufacturer for our buses and chargers so far and had some pretty good response with it, I don’t honestly know if that’s the best way to go. So let me leave that as a question. Other than that don’t get too far ahead of yourself, as we did expecting that you’ll electrify your fleet 100% within, you know, about the same amount of time as you’d replace your diesel fleet, it’s just truly not going to happen like that. So just be aware of that. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Thank you, Chris. And I think, you know, kind of thinking along the lines of that, right, this more gradual transition rather than a wholesale swap out, I think that has some value from the perspective of resilience and, and a couple of you spoke to the idea of using battery electric buses as either redundant vehicles or supplements the fleet versus providing core service. And so there’s a couple of different threads here that I’m trying to weave together, right? That’s one of them is this sort of supplemental service versus core service and exceed your situation is a little bit different from that. And then the other thread I’m thinking about here is this resilience topic. And so a lot of folks are concerned about this idea of relying exclusively on battery electric buses, when there’s a severe weather event. And we have good representation of severe weather events. 

given the representation of geographies we have here, right? So we’ve talked about snow. I think ice is another factor. We’ve certainly I’m in Northern California as well. So had our share of concern around wildfire and then flooding. So I think there’s perspectives here about resilience, there’s perspectives about redundancy in the fleet. I think those things are connected. And Ralf, I know we talked about this once before and you have an interesting perspective. Do you want to start us off kind of on this general topic and then we can let other folks time in? 

Ralf Nielsen: 

Yeah, I think I think that’s a really good point. Jenna, I think there’s two aspects, like you said, there’s the aspects of having, you know, the service still being able to be provided, considering say an electricity outage. Right. and we’re grateful that we live in a, in an area where a, the majority of electricity generated overwhelming majority is through hydroelectricity and it’s been very consistent with a very small number of outages. And if those outages happen, they’re usually weather related, which also have, you know, challenges with respect to even being able to get roots served because there are other problems having like snow on a particular route. Right. So I do think that we have to look at options with respect to redundancy and resiliency, right? So having a fleet mix that has various different types of energy sources is, is, is a good resiliency strategy. 

But there’s also this aspect is if we, if we need backup or redundant power for charging, particularly at depots, right. To build the amount of power systems to provide that is astronomical. So the amount of say traditional backup generators that you would need to do that is cost prohibitive, right? So is there other, so are there other innovative solutions that, that are out there potentially into the future that we can use? Right. Possibly hydrogen plays a role in terms of providing not only the energy carrier for our a fleet, but also the energy carrier for backup power at the Depot itself. Maybe there is some innovation that’s possible there. So that requires really good. You know, really good knowledge from the utility provider so that you can partner to kind of solve those challenges. I think the other aspect that we’re looking at is we know that the demand on the electricity grid is just going to go up and up and up, right. 

So, and if we are electrifying transportation generally, then what does that mean for actually the utilities to be able to provide and generate and distribute that electricity? So I think there’s a role for organizations like ourselves to partner with our critical utilities so that we can help collectively solve that challenge of the demand going up while creating resiliency for our operations and eventually, you know, to maintain transit service to our customers. So, I I’m sure Steve, I know they’re doing work and adaptation and resiliency, so I’d be really interested to hear Steve’s perspective on this. 

Steve Schupak: 

Sure. and, and, and you hit, you hit a lot of the points right on the head. As we go from you know, liquid fuels to, to gas, to electric, you, you you’re really shrinking down the number of providers that you have available. If you really, if you want to think about emergency resiliency, diesel’s just ideal. I mean, you can bring it in by multiple trucks. You can drive around obstacles, you can pump it with, with hand pumps, if you need to. So that’s ideal. Yeah. CNG, you can run with a, with a, with a moderately sized diesel backup generator, CNG, backup generator, and, and compress it electricity. I mean, California regularly has rolling blackouts and we have to plan and be, be ready for that sort of thing. And, and it’s, it’s, it’s both costs and space and practical to, to try to bring in or have on site, a complete re complete redundant generating system to power the things we are, we are doing what we can with designing in canopies for, for solar, with some battery backup. 

But is it going to give you full 24 7 operation for extended periods, periods of time? We’re, I mean, Johnny, you’re, you, you’re up in Northern California, you, you know, about earthquakes we’re in the same boat, or we’re just waiting for the number nine to hit and see what happens again. And as, as an essential service provider, we need to do as much as we can to, to move to move people during and, and emergency equipment. And so and so forth during these natural disasters. But the, one of the limitations that, that, that we’re running into is space. Yeah. And between, between the vehicles, the, the charging equipment, the existing fueling equipment that that’s there and going to keep operating for at least another 10 or 12 years if not 20 years up through 2035 or 40 that takes up space and that space is, is at a premium. 

And when you think about the amount of power that, that we need, we’re looking at, you know, 10 to 15 megawatts per location, we got 11 different depots pulling that much power. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s cost prohibitive to try to have full redundancy in having plans in place to say, okay, here, here’s what here, you know, here’s what we can provide. And if we get in deep yogurt, we can only do this, that, and the other thing, but not fully what we’ve been doing in the past. It’s just not, it’s just not feasible given the limitations of, of both the infrastructure and what the, what the vehicles will do. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Yeah. And I think, well, Chris, did you have anything you wanted to add to that? I know you had spoken about sort of using the electric buses, at least in the short term as, as supplemental. So I’m not sure if you’re running into space constraints at the Depot, you know, where do we put these extra buses or how you’re thinking about resiliency? 

Chris Lubbers: 

No, just tagging onto to both points, really the expense we’re designing a new facility and in doing so, we brought in a transformer larger than contemplated, really for any facility in the region, just to begin. We will bring in a second transformer just as large to equate to 100% electrification at that bus storage and operations facility. So the cost front is exorbitant. We had kind of a, a pie in the sky, look at this facility. We had battery backup for the charging initially and found it to be very unrealistic. We just, we, we really couldn’t make it happen in, in the design process. We also looked at diesel backup generation for the charging and the resulting diesel generator size was simply unrealistic. So just, just kind of tagging onto the points already said, he said, 

Jenna McDavid: 

Okay. Okay. Interesting. I think you know, one of the things I wanted to kind of circle back on here was this idea. Again, I keep, I keep hitting this note about supplemental to the fleet versus providing core services. And I think Steve you’ve sort of transitioned the operations at LA Metro in, in at least on somewhere else to, to using battery electric buses to provide core service. I understand it. And, and Ralf, oh, oh, go ahead. If you want to 

Steve Schupak: 

. Yeah, lemme, yeah. Lemme, lemme clarify that cause yes, please. What I, what I was attending to say, I wasn’t very clear about it was we, we started off service with, with a short trip run, and then we we’ve grown from that to what, to at least on the orange line, their all day full base run service that, that, that isn’t compromised in any way. And you want to start off with some smaller routes and block assignments that, you know, the vehicle will, will achieve. So you know, if you’ve got one block that’s five hours and another block that’s, I mean, we, we run blocks that are 27 hours long bus goes out one day, puts in four different operators along the way and comes back the next day virtually. So it’s, it’s, it’s impractical to expect a Depot charged vehicle to, to do that kind of range. 

You know, we’ll have 300, 370 miles at times. So but we have a number of runs that, that go off on a, on a shorter duration out and back out and back twice kind of thing, and start off with those lower assignments. So, it’s not a supplemental vehicle, but it’s taking it’s picking and choosing the assignments. Mm-Hmm that the vehicle is, is better tailored for. And then as you, as both the operators get experience and also the mechanics, and that’s a, that’s actually a really huge point is getting buy-in from, from your labor pool to make sure that they’re, that they’re comfortable in operating it, they’re comfortable in maintaining it versus, you know, being, you know, fear to say, I can’t, I can’t drive it. I’m not going to touch it. And people do everything they can because ranging, you know, we talk about right now, right now, the big topic is with us is telematics and getting onboard real time information. 

And my, my perspective is, you know, what? You got the best, you got the best battery stated charge monitor on the planet. You got an operator out there drive around saying, okay, I got 20 more miles to go this way. And I got 5% and I got to go 30% back that way. I know I’m going to run out of fuel, and they don’t want to be sitting out there, especially in the hot sun, out in some, some, some place waiting for a tow truck or someone to come get ’em. So they’re highly, highly motivated to ensure that they make it back to the end of their run so that they can go home and not spend any extra time waiting around. So get them comfortable and then continually train to make sure that they’re, that they’re using that they’re managing their driving style to best seek out mileage out of the vehicle. Because there is a huge, huge variability from kilowatt, you know, mile and kilos per mile to five kilowatts per mile, depending how hard they’re stomping on the, on the accelerator and stomping on the brakes. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Yeah. Let’s on that about sort of receptivity among operators and, and maintenance, and even, you know, if you’ve heard anything from passengers or, or other stakeholders, I’d be curious, Ralf and, and Chris, what you’re hearing from, from staff and, and folks who are, who are utilizing the services. 

Ralf Nielsen: 

Yeah. Well, I, I asked my local bus driver the other day whether they were looking forward to driving a, a, B, B, and they said, yes, I can’t wait. And I think the reason was that they were looking forward to being quiet. You, they really wanted to be quiet. And when our customers are riding on the four BBS that we have, that’s one of the things that they mentioned is it’s so nice, it’s comfortable, it’s quiet, and they can have a conversation, right? The, the, the diesel in the back that noise is gone. So I think that’s one of the things that both the drivers and the customers are really looking forward for. You know, as Steve said, you do have to spend some time on the change management side, right? This is a, this is a transition on not only on providing service, but it’s also all the O and M right, that happens at the, at the transit centers. Right. And so staff have to be really well. They have to embrace the fact that these things are going to change, and they have to be looking forward to that. So, you have to spend some time championing that, and if they’re not, you know, deploying the technology or servicing the technology, because they consider it optional, you’ve got to have a champion who can, who can work with them on an ongoing basis to, to, to help them adapt. 

Chris Lubbers: 

Absolutely. You know, we, it it’s fear based. We were able to alleviate the fears drivers now, like even these earlier models you know, initially they were afraid, what will the analog breaking system do? What will the stability control do on the icy roads? It’s too much torque, how is it going to work? Mm-Hmm truth is it works really well. It works just fine. The control systems on even these early models are absolutely safe and, and working well. So now the drivers are completely integrated and, and sold on the change management, however, operations staff, supervisory, staff, and maintenance staff. We’re not there yet. You know, the buses do not have the uptime that we were looking for. So we’ve got some work ahead of us in the change management with those groups. 

Steve Schupak: 

Steve, so, yeah, so a couple of things to consider and we’ve got on route charging and, and being aware and training for the, for the peculiarities of, of that. So we’ve got overhead Canton areas. And so we had to develop striping on the ground and also on the curb for the driver to be able to line up. There’s a pretty small window that, that the bus needs to be positioned on. Overall I know, I know that our passengers really enjoy the, the vehicles cause they’re quiet. They’ve got the new car smell on a 60 footer, we’ve got, we’ve got twin electric drive air conditioner. So it’s always blown cold. And that, and the operators really like the, the, the AC system, they also like the acceleration the new flares have B and C drive axles, and it will pinch you back in your seats. 

we actually we’re actually have to start almost thinking about detuning the acceleration a little bit, so you don’t knock people off, you know, off the off their feet when they’re standing. So, the performance on ’em is just out con you know, out of this world. So and you know, you couple that with, with a brand new vehicle you know, who, who doesn’t like getting a new car you know, everything’s shiny, everything smells good, it’s all clean. It all works. And, and, and they really like it outside the, the, the residents along our, our bus way, like it, because you don’t have this screaming fan bank going by trying to keep this C and G engine cooled running at 1100 degrees on renewable natural gas and, you know, on the verge of, of catching fire just on its own on its own operation. I mean, you know, the, the blankets around the muffler are just incredible to keep these things working. Yeah. So you take out, out that entire system and, and all of a sudden, wow, it came by and when, and you can, and you can talk inside and out. It’s all good. 

Ralf Nielsen: 

I, I think that’s a really good point. Steve is about, you know, making transit attractive because that hits the other side of what we’re really trying to do is get people, you know, out of their motor vehicles, right. And into transit. So the more we, the more attention we pay to how to make transit attractive and convenient, accessible, quiet, comfortable, you know so that we can really compete with the, with the motor vehicle. So that is really, really important. I think we have probably lots more to promote on that in the coming years and the coming decade, really to get to, to really leverage what the BEVs and other alternatives can provide us in that regard. 

Jenna McDavid: 

Yeah. I think that’s a, a great comment. I, I’ve been talking with folks about sort of, what is your ideal vision of the future? And I think for a lot of us, it’s a, it’s a future where, you know, transportation is clean and, and quiet, and there’s a bunch of different molds available and, and it’s, you know, comfortable, right. So I think these are all important pieces. There’s so many questions in the chat. There are so many additional questions that I could ask, but we are out of time and I want to be respectful of everyone’s time today. So, I want to say thank you to Ralf Chris and Steve, for your perspective. And for your time, I want to say thank you to, to all of the folks who, who logged in today. I, I do see a ton of questions in the chat. We didn’t get to all of them. We’ll follow up via email and I’ll make sure that our presenters have those questions in case they want to reach out to any of you. We will follow this with an email that includes a link to a recording of the webinar. And as I mentioned, we’ll be following up with folks who had questions. So thank you again to everyone and enjoy the rest of your day.

About the Experts

Jenna McDavid

Jenna McDavid

Jenna has 22 years of experience in the clean energy and clean transportation industries. She provides strategic advisory support to public agencies and private companies to aid their transitions to zero-emissions vehicles. Her current and recent engagements address regional strategies for transportation decarbonization, design and delivery of programs to support EV adoption, siting optimization for EV charging infrastructure, and fleet electrification support.

A recognized leader in sustainability, Jenna serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Association of Women in Water, Energy, and Environment (AWWEE) and Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC). She served as Conference Chair for the 2019 IEPEC and Vice Chair for the 2017 conference. At recent conferences and industry events, she has moderated EV sessions and presented research on strategies to increase EV adoption in underserved communities and on grid-enabling technologies to support EVs. Additionally, Jenna served Expert Advisor to the California Public Utilities Commission in support of their Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan and served two consecutive terms as Commissioner on Energy Use and Climate Change for the City of Somerville, Massachusetts.


Get in touch with our Energy and Transit Consulting specialists.