Electric Buses



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Sunday February 19, 2017 Electric Buses While we all love to drive around in our cars, public transportation is vital to the functioning of our cities.  In cities like London buses move millions of people every day.  Even in car friendly Los Angeles many people rely on the bus to get them to work and home every day.  There is a growing trend around the world to electrify the bus fleet.


There is a big problem with the conventional bus; it is usually powered by a diesel engine.  While public transportation is often seen as being good for the environment we all know that diesel engines are a huge source of air pollution and emissions from diesels, especially particulate emissions, have been linked to a whole host of health problems.


Here in Los Angeles the problem has been addressed by converting the entire bus fleet to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).  CNG buses are much cleaner than their diesel counterparts and it a place like Los Angeles, which has some of the worst air quality issues in the country, this change has made a huge impact on the air we breath.


Now many places are looking to take that one step further with the growing inclusion of electric buses into city fleets.

Electric Buses are not new but they had to be powered by overhead wires and were known as trolley busses.  While growing up I can remember riding the trolley busses in Leeds.  They were quite and clean but the overhead wires meant that it was difficult to route the trolley bus around a problem such as an accident that blocked a street, or a water main burst.  Battery technology is improving at a rapid pace though and now a new generation of electric buses are starting to emerge.


The trend started with electric shuttle buses.  These busses usually run over very short routes so they don't need a lot of range to be able to run for most of the day without the need to re-charge.  Shuttles like this have been running around Santa Barbara, CA for over 10 years and have provided excellent service transporting passengers between Sterns Wharf and down town Santa Barbara.  Typically these buses do not provide enough range to meet the requirements of daily use around big cities.


A new generation of electric buses are starting to emerge from companies like Proterra and BYD.  These buses offer much larger range per charge than the older shuttle buses; enough range to meet the needs of bus routes in most cities around the world. 


London for example has just bought 5 double decker electric buses from BYD.  These buses have the same basic layout as the current double decker diesel buses and operate on route 98 from Willesden to Holborn.  The buses have a range of 180 miles on a charge which is more than enough to allow them to run the full day without re-charging.  Transport for London also operates a number of single decker electric buses and some hybrid buses on their routes.


Los Angeles is also beginning to add electric buses to their fleet.  LADOT recently purchased 4 35 foot buses from BYD for use on their downtown fleet.  The buses will be built at the BYD facility in Lancaster, CA.  They can travel about 135 miles on a full charge which is adequate for many routes serviced by LADOT.  Not to be outdone, the LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has also signed an agreement to purchase 25 electric buses from BYD.


Proterra, has also been developing a series of buses and currently has close to 100 buses in use spread over 18 cities around the country.  They  offer both 35ft and 40ft single decker buses some of which are capable of travelling over 250 miles on a charge.  They also offer a very interesting fast charging option.  Fast charging stations can be installed at bus stops where the bus stands for longer than normal, such as the turn around point at the end of the route.  The bus is charged via an overhead power line and the charging is done automatically without driver intervention.  Typically a bus can add about 26 miles of range during a 5 minute layover.  In many cases this is enough that the bus is able to run 24 7.


Electric buses have the same advantage as electric cars; as the power grid gets cleaner so do the electric buses.  Since there are no tailpipe emissions the buses also don't pollute at a local level.  To paraphrase Bob Lutz, electrification of the bus is a forgone conclusion. 

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