Modernizing Transit Agencies: The Path to Zero-Emission On-Site Operations

For those who’ve spent any time driving in a city, they’ve likely found themselves behind the emissions-belching tailpipe of a bus. Fortunately, that scenario is becoming less common. Transit agencies are modernizing their fleets and operations for a zero-emission future and every year more are replaced by eco-friendly models. In the U.S. alone, more than 60,000 buses transport people from place to place¹, and every year more are replaced by eco-friendly models. This journey includes not only the “hardware” of the fleet—the buses themselves—but the “software” that brings efficiency to transit yards, maintenance operations, and back-office functions. In this blog, we’ll touch on electric bus fleets, transit yard management, and the impact of real-time situational awareness of all vehicles. We will also outline the essential steps for transit agencies transitioning to a zero-emission model and discuss the crucial role of government subsidies in this transformation.

Electric Buses: The Eco-Friendly Choice

Electric buses are sustainable alternatives to their diesel-fueled cousins that offer advantages for riders, transit operators, and the communities they serve.

Some advantages of electric buses:

  • Environment: Everyone appreciates clean air and a healthy environment. With millions dependent on public transportation worldwide, electric buses play an essential role in the fight against climate change by limiting air pollution and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cost: Electric buses have fewer moving parts than their diesel equivalents, leading to lower maintenance costs and fewer breakdowns. Fuel costs are eliminated altogether. This translates into greater reliability and monetary savings over the vehicle’s lifespan, even when the upfront investment is higher.
  • Reputation: Electric buses are quiet—a sonic relief for those living in urban areas and a welcome break from mechanical cacophony for the people riding them. They also align transit agencies with sustainability goals, attracting environmentally conscious passengers, investors and other stakeholders.

Managing the Transit Yard: A Complex Challenge

Purchasing eco-friendly buses is just one aspect of the transition to a zero-emissions agency. Operators must also think about the transit yard management, bustling hubs where buses arrive, depart and undergo maintenance. Ensuring that these operations run smoothly is a complex task that involves tracking vehicle status and location, scheduling maintenance and optimizing charging for electric buses.

Real-time situational awareness of every vehicle in an agency’s fleet can be a game-changer, giving transit agencies the ability to do

  • Track vehicle locations to optimize routes and schedules, and to avoid situations that would result in idling or long detours
  • Simplify maintenance scheduling by tracking maintenance needs, ensuring buses receive attention when they should, reducing downtime and extending vehicle lifespans
  • Optimize battery charging by considering ridership patterns, fluctuating electricity rates and peak usage times
  • Automate yard management tasks to streamline operations for greater efficiency

What to Think About When Transitioning to a Zero-Emissions Agency

Transitioning to a zero-emission model requires careful planning and execution. Here are some of the essential steps:

  1. Assess operations – Conduct a thorough assessment of your fleet and operations. Identify high-emission routes and prioritize them for electrification. Analyze travel distances in anticipation of calculating charging needs. Develop a comprehensive transition plan with clear goals, timelines and budget estimates.
  2. Explore options – Identify bus types that align with your agency’s route requirements, driving distances and charging capabilities. Familiarize yourself with government incentives for transitioning to electric or zero-emission fleets. Many encourage sustainable transportation through financial support.
  3. Invest in charging infrastructure – Consider your transit yard as well as your routes. Fast-charging stations can minimize downtime and ensure buses are ready for service, but they’re not the only option. Find out whether you are eligible for government programs specific to installing and maintaining a charging infrastructure.
  4. Prepare the workforce – Electric buses have different maintenance requirements than those that rely on fossil fuels. Technicians must be prepared to maintain them, operations staff must understand specs such as battery range, and if the buses handle differently than the current fleet, drivers need to be trained on their quirks.
  5. Implement real-time fleet management – Real-time data and fleet-wide visibility are essential in tracking vehicle locations, managing maintenance schedules and optimizing charging. Deploy continuous monitoring and analytics tools that optimize bus use and charging infrastructure, identify areas for improvement and track progress toward emission goals.
  6. Engage the Public – Promote the environmental and economic benefits of zero-emission transit to increase ridership and build goodwill with funding entities.

Government Subsidies and Public/Private Partnerships Help Transit Agencies Revamp Their Fleets

Governments are nudging the transition to eco-friendly buses forward through financial incentives, rebates, subsidies, tax credits, grants and other financial tools (the carrot), as well as environmental mandates (the stick). For transit agencies, these can offset the higher upfront costs of electric buses, fund the installation and maintenance of charging infrastructures, and bridge operational cost differentials between traditional and electric-powered fleets. For instance, in June the U.S. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) distributed $1.7 billion for the production of modern buses, about half of which will be zero-emission vehicles.²  Hybrid (battery/fossil fuel) and natural gas-powered bus production is on the rise, too.

Additionally, fleet owners are exploring public/private partnerships. In this model, fleet owners purchase and maintain the vehicles and lease them to cities or transportation agencies under long-term contracts. This may enable transit agencies to accelerate the transition to zero-emission fleets since it removes the cost and responsibility of ownership from the equation.

Accelerate the Transition to a Zero-Emissions Model with Vontas OnSite

The modernization of transit agencies is an essential step toward a more sustainable future. Electric bus fleets, real-time fleet management systems such as Vontas OnSite, and government subsidies are key components of this transformation. By following the outlined steps and leveraging government support, transit agencies can play a pivotal role in reducing emissions and advancing the global effort to combat climate change while delivering efficient and eco-friendly public transportation services to their communities.

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