Every truck, bus and automotive engineering magazine that arrives at my office is filled with articles, ads and helpful hints about some type of electric vehicle. The articles also discuss the remanufacturing of the earlier battery packs, as well as looking into the many “new” vehicle manufacturers who are entering this fast-growing field. Some have never made commercial vehicles. Like most of CTAA’s members, buses, of course, are at the center of my interest and they have been getting tremendous attention in recent months.
Historically, the 1915 Edison bus, which used lead acid batteries, was eclipsed by the 1920 Flexible/Fageol type electric motor buses, as used by Louisville Railway (now Transit Authority of River City, “TARC”). Photos of these buses still adorn the walls of TARC offices in Louisville, Ky.
In more recent times, I believe school bus engineering groups started to design electric platforms around the 1990s and are now positioned to be on a rapid trajectory upward. Since school buses are America’s largest public fleet for children, with more than 420,000 in service, the electric vehicles do have a long way to reach parity with current gas and diesel. However, they can help move children away from breathing gasoline and diesel exhaust.
Transit buses have had several models come to the forefront in the last five years and they are gaining in popularity nationally and abroad. China is believed to have the world’s largest fleet of electric powered buses.
When I say “electric powered,” I mean buses that are equipped with a CNG, gasoline, diesel or propane fuel powered engine that is connected directly to an electric motor. In modern engineering circles, we call this type of drive systems “hybrid.” In reality, this drive system has been around since the 1940s and powered most railroad locomotives and a number of U.S. Navy submarines.
The other “electric powered” vehicles are the battery-only type, which again have been around for more than 100 years in America. In 1905, no less than five different car manufacturers were making battery powered cars, including Ford, Edison, the Detroit Electric, and many more.
When we have a bus (including a van or cut away paratransit vehicle) that has no engine and is driven only by the electric current from the battery systems, we refer to it as a battery electric bus (BEB).
BEB buses produce a lot of “torque” or twisting motions to a drive shaft, in order to get the vehicle to start rolling and sustain its street operation until the battery drains like a cell phone. To some, this calls for a more powerful battery, which could be a larger size (and heavier) or, to others, a different chemistry or technology, which is currently being invented behind closed doors, at present.
I firmly believe we will see the “BEB combination” become the main power choice for our size of bus in the future. But, that does not end the conversation because several other bus related systems will be changing and invented over time.
Depending upon who you talked to last, or what research you may have read in an article, there certainly is a technology race happening across all automotive sectors. I believe it is far greater now than one hundred years ago, when more than 400 automotive car, truck and bus manufacturers were leap frogging each other’s advancements. Fortunately, we will get to see these advances at upcoming trade shows and media events. At present, my crystal ball suggests we may be seeing such things as:
Moving from gas/diesel hybrid buses has shown that most fleets handle this operation quite well. However, there are subtle changes that must be taught so that new operators become comfortable with hybrids and BEB’s. Some of these are:
NOTE: These tips are provided only for the sake of driver and mechanic awareness. Always use the specific information from your bus manufacturer for driver training and mechanics inspection guidelines.
While most of the paratransit fleet shops will not be required to make large scale changes (like those that occurred with CNG fuels) you may find it necessary to make sufficient changes to the facility electrical grid in order to keep equipment at the proper state of charge.
Of primary concern with all types of electrical buses is the potential for injury and death on the shop floor. Electricity by its very nature will cause first, second and third degree burns. It can also stop the heart!
For those reasons, several organizations are developing guidelines and standards for people working around, and directly with, electrical power. Myself and a colleague will be presenting this information, and much more around electric buses, at CTAA’s EXPO next month. If you have, or plan to acquire, electric buses of any type, we encourage you and your mechanics to attend this special training. My colleague and electronics specialist, Mike Brock, will provide information that includes systems, controls and methods in general. We look forward to seeing you there!
About the Author: Learn more about Halsey King and Associates, Inc.
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.