Electric Buses – The Implications for Planning, Scheduling and Operations
By Bennett Humphries
My name is Bennett Humphries and I’ve recently joined the Trapeze Australia/New Zealand Bus team as Product Manager. I’m responsible for working with our bus operator and government authority customers, understanding your needs and objectives, and ensuring that our suite of solutions - including the Austrics Planning and Scheduling, TIMS Enterprise Resource Planning, and Passenger Information Display solutions – continue to meet your requirements and expectations both now and into the future.
One of my key focus areas is the transition to electric buses and the impact on planning and scheduling and operational processes for our customers. We are already seeing some of these impacts happening now, which I outline further below.
What is the future for electric buses?
Electric buses are here and now, as governments are focusing on significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Public transport has a significant role to play by shifting commuters from private vehicles to more environmentally friendly modes like electric vehicles (EVs). This mode shift is becoming more important in cities as they become larger and denser. Pollution caused by vehicle emissions is a significant contributor to health issues in densely populated areas.
The benefits of electric vehicles are significant - not just for air quality, noise pollution and greenhouse gas improvements, but since electric vehicles have minimal moving parts, there is less risk of unplanned repairs. There is also a commercial advantage to EVs. As the technology matures and demand grows, the production costs decrease, making them a better long-term investment - with lower ongoing maintenance costs anticipated. Passengers love electric buses as they provide a quiet ride because the electric motor generates minimal noise and vibration compared to conventional buses.
It’s a win-win-win for governments, operators, and the travelling public. However, efforts to make EVs mainstream need to be coordinated, and power distribution infrastructure constraints need to be reviewed. Transport authorities may also need to review contract lengths to account for changes to electric vehicle and battery depreciation over their life cycle. They will need to consider residual value guarantees for transferring assets such as charging stations to remove the risk from operators.
What are the aggressive goals tied to greenhouse gas reduction targets?
Over 130 countries, including New Zealand, the United States, and Europe, have committed to or are considering a net-zero 2050 greenhouse gas target. While Australia hasn’t yet committed to this goal, most Australian state governments have announced trials and targets to support the transition to electric and other Zero-Emission Buses (ZEBs) as part of their emissions reduction plans to make urban areas more liveable.
- The New South Wales Government has set a goal of transitioning their entire fleet of 8,000 buses to zero-emission buses, or ZEBs, by 2030. More than 50 new electric buses are expected to hit the road in 2021 on top of the existing electric bus fleet.
- The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads has announced all buses purchased by 2030 will be ZEBs. Several electric bus trials have been announced, including new electric buses to be operated in South-East Queensland in 2021 and 2022.
- The Victorian Government recently announced it has committed $20 million in the 2020/21 budget for a three-year electric bus trial, and
- The Auckland Council (Auckland Transport) has a low emission roadmap with a plan to replace all diesel buses by 2040.
The bottom line is that authorities and operators across Australia and New Zealand are accelerating the adoption of low and zero-emissions vehicle technology and infrastructure - and it’s happening now.
What are the planning, scheduling and operational challenges for electric buses?
Electric buses introduce several new considerations which were previously not part of traditional planning and scheduling or operational processes. Understanding and managing the factors that affect the standard battery recharge and discharge rates is a key consideration. We now need to deal with scenarios such as limited vehicle range, extended recharging times, as well as depot and opportunity charging. Charge level information is required so that operations teams can ensure service levels are maintained and charging requirements can be managed.
The ‘newness’ of EV technology adds a level of uncertainty for operators who are very conscious of meeting their service level targets and other KPIs. Predicting and monitoring EV battery charge levels is a key consideration for planning and scheduling right through to the day of operations. For example, if a bus misses its recharging slot, this will impact not only its block of trips, but potentially other bus blocks as well.
Early model electric buses only had a range of around 170 kilometres. This allowed for a morning shift which then required a mid-day charge to be ready for an afternoon shift. Bus and battery technology improvements mean that today, electric bus range expectations are up to 350 kilometres. The technology will continue to improve; however, we are still some time away from when an electric bus can be managed like a diesel bus where it is sent out for service with little consideration paid to trip distance or recharging requirements.
Remember, operators are not moving to an entirely electric fleet overnight. There will be a transition period with mixed fleets of diesel, biofuel, and electric buses. This means that planning and scheduling solutions must support existing and evolving requirements for all these bus types.
At Trapeze we are working closely with our customers that are leading the adoption of electric buses – including some of the largest E-bus fleet operators in Europe - to gain ongoing insights into the EV support capabilities that we build into our solutions. This ensures that as the adoption of this exciting capability progresses, all our customers will benefit.
We are already building a base of capability for EV support in our Austrics and TIMS products. Systems that know the bus network, the various vehicle classes, and charging locations, can make accurate predictions on the remaining bus range, which in turn provides information on the required charge times.
But as with all our solutions, we’re keen to hear from our customers to understand their plans and specific challenges concerning their transition to electric buses or other low and zero-emissions vehicles. I expect this to happen in the not-so-distant future!
I would be more than happy to discuss Trapeze’s EV support and other product roadmap initiatives with you. To find out more, please contact me on how Trapeze can help your bus operation.
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