All Electric Buses En Route To Sustainable Development

All-electric buses are coming to a bus stop near you -- or at least, nearer than ever before.

China has led the way in electric bus utilization for many years, but now bus companies in the U.S. are testing and accepting a variety of all-electric transit vehicles. The relatively sleek, smooth buses offer the potential to save vast sums of operating expenses over the typical bus' operating life.

One reason electric buses are now appearing on local streets in the U.S. is that their batteries can be charged in just a few minutes, instead of the hours required by older energy-storage technologies.

With recent improvements in electric drive train technology, battery-powered buses can now operate on the exact same routes and the exact same schedules as conventionally powered diesel or even compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. In the past, electric vehicles needed expensive, unsightly, and potentially dangerous overhead wires to bring the electricity to the vehicle. Now they carry their own motive power, and in fact regenerate more power every time they roll down a hill or put on the brakes.

A Federal Transit Administration white paper recently documented the government’s willingness to move toward green energy for public transportation. And local transit companies are taking them up on it.

For example, Foothill Transit, based in West Covina, CA, was recently awarded six million dollars under the federal government’s economic stimulus program to begin operating a new electric transit bus line. Three new buses have already begun carrying passengers around town, and Foothill has an option to purchase nine more electric buses if and when the first three prove their value.

These new heavy-duty, all electric, fast-charging buses have raised expectations that electric vehicles can provide the means to convert public transit systems from large polluters to environmentally friendly operations.

Rather than give the new buses an easy ride, George Karbowski, Foothill Transit’s director of operations, decided to put the new buses into service on Foothill’s Line 291, which provides a tough test of their endurance and efficiency. He deliberately chose the 19-mile, roundtrip route that travels north and south between the cities of La Verne and Pomona, in part because it carries about five percent of the company's annual ridership with only three percent of its buses.

Ridership on the route amounts to nearly 60,000 boardings a month.

Because of doctors’ offices and the hospital on the line, the line's riders require a relatively high number of wheelchair boardings, which provide another important test for electrically powered buses.

The electricity to power the new buses is purchased from Southern California Edison (SCE), which is the nation’s largest purchaser of renewable energy, buying and delivering approximately 12.6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and small hydro suppliers each year. This amounts to just about 16 percent of the total power the company delivers to its customers.

Karbowski says that Foothill joined a U.S. Department of Energy program that allows it to buy renewable energy credits (RECs). As a result, all the energy that Foothill buys from SCE for its electric buses is guaranteed to be supplied by renewable energy sources.

During the next six months, Foothill Transit will collect data on the daily operations of new electric buses and then do a formal study to determine if it wants more of them.

More later ...

Photo courtesy of Foothill Transit