Electric motorcoach fleets will need more than extension cords

The care and feeding of battery-electric motorcoaches will bring entirely new infrastructure needs for shop habitats accustomed to nurturing diesel engines.

“You need to have a comprehensive plan. You can’t just buy a bus,” said Brent Maitland, vice president of marketing and product planning at MCI. “We are having lots of discussions with prospective operators. The biggest eye-opener for them is the amount of infrastructure you need in advance of purchasing the vehicles.”

The coming generation of battery-electric motorcoaches requires powerful charging stations, hefty service lines from the local electrical utility, new technical software and specialty technician training.

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) in Southern California has budgeted $79.9 million for the 2017 through 2019 fiscal years to convert its fleet to battery-electrics. One-fifth of the total, some $17 million, will purchase charging facilities for it depot and stops along bus routes. The $62.6-million investment in rolling stock will acquire 85 BYD vehicles: 40-foot and 60-foot transit buses and 45-foot commuter coaches. Federal officials estimate the cost of a large battery-electric transit bus is $750,000 compared to $435,000 for a comparable diesel.

AVTA serves 1,200 square miles, covering the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale and a portion of Los Angeles County. Its depot has been equipped with 87 charging stations and a 1.5 megawatt-hour backup generator, which can produce enough electricity to meet the daily needs of 31 average homes using 48 kilowatt-hours daily.

“In most cases the local power supplier is the starting point. You’ve got to bring main line power into your location,” said Thom Peebles, vice president of marketing at ABC Companies, the North American distributor for Van Hool. ABC and Van Hool are building a prototype battery-electric motorcoach, the CX45E, in partnership with the Proterra technology company.

Proterra offers depot charging stations in two sizes. The more powerful unit can fully recharge a bus in three hours. It requires 138 kilowatts at 480 volts.

“The amount of power you will need depends on the amount of buses you need to recharge and your recharging units — whether you are using fast-charge or slow-charge units,” he says. “That determines how quickly you can push that energy into the batteries.”

A carrier’s operating model also will determine the peak electricity demand, he adds. “Are you going to charge the bus and run it through the day and then recharge it, or are you going to be topping if off during the day? That will drive the decision on the types of chargers you put in place.”

All of that electricity will create new safety issues, said J.P. Pelletier, vice president of engineering for Motor Coach Industries in Winnipeg. MCI is testing the prototype of its J4500e motorcoach. Electric vehicle motors draw up 800 volts, according to a training manual from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“Then we have accessories that operate on 230 volts, such as the air conditioning compressor, and the standard 12- and 24-volt for the rest of the accessories. Plus you have the power coming into the charging stations in your shop,” Pelletier said.

Adds Maitland: “Most maintenance operations will not require special tools or precautions because you are not engaging with the high-voltage system. When you are dealing with that high voltage there will be special training and probably some special equipment, such as gloves, that are protective against high voltage.”

ABC is working with Proterra on training needs for electric motorcoach fleets. “We already have certifications starting for battery-electric maintenance that include things like high-voltage familiarization, safety training and driver training,” Peebles said.

Interest in battery-electric buses and motorcoaches is expected to grow, especially in California. The California Air Resources Board expects the state’s 12,000 city buses to convert to electricity by 2040 and is considering a regulation that would require new airport shuttles to be electric by 2026.

New Flyer Industries, parent of MCI, introduced its New Flyer Infrastructure Solutions subsidiary during the United Motorcoach Association’s Motorcoach EXPO in Fort Lauderdale last January. Also at EXPO, ABC Companies announced plans for a technology center in Northern California’s Alameda County that will include facilities to support electric buses.

That center will help ABC guide its customers in planning for battery-electric motorcoach service, Peebles said. “We are going through the planning process now with our own facilities. We will have the added benefit of not only talking about what is needed, but knowing what is needed in our case.”

Share this post