Bus back better: Integrating zero emission buses

Bus back better: Integrating zero emission buses

We’ll hopefully be seeing lots of shiny new zero emission buses over the next few years.

In the third part of our 'Bus Back Better' series (read parts 1 and 2), James McCarthy, Head of Operations at CitySwift, considers the challenge of integrating zero emission buses into networks.

Zero emission is the direction of travel and there is no going back, with more and more governments likely to set legal end dates for the sale of new diesel buses. Electric and hydrogen buses will soon cease to be curiosities – they will increasingly become mainstays of bus fleets around the world.

Buses already have a great story to tell in terms of per passenger emissions – but the move to zero emission will make it even better. The popular image of the dirty bus, belching out fumes, was always an unfair one. Soon it will be laid to rest.

Diesel is a technology that has served the bus industry well for decades, but it will now be phased out in just a few years. Transit agencies will have to select the most appropriate technology - electric or hydrogen - for each depot or route and then consider the required charging infrastructure.

Battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses each have strengths in different circumstances. Battery-electric is a more efficient user of energy, but hydrogen can lend itself better to longer journeys in rural areas.

Of course, it’s not as straightforward as swapping a zero emission vehicle for a diesel one and sending it out on the road. Transit agencies and local government have an enormous amount of work to do in preparation.

The switch to zero emission buses is a process that will involve the analysis of huge amounts of data – and that’s where CitySwift can contribute something to the process. We believe that the transition to zero emission buses starts by scrutinising the network and crunching the data about what can be achieved.

During the transition, bus operators will have to grapple with new technologies they may have not had experience of before. What changes to the network will be required to facilitate their introduction? What infrastructure will be required? How, where and when will vehicles be plugged into the grid to recharge or have their hydrogen tanks topped up? 

At CitySwift, we can provide some of those answers – and also suggest which parts of a network will be most appropriate for early conversion to zero emission buses. We can then help transit agencies scale things up from a single route to a wider network; from 5% of the network to 40%, 60% and then - the big goal - of 100%.

Of course, zero emission buses do come at a cost premium, for now at least, but we believe there are opportunities beyond the obvious benefits to passengers and communities - opportunities to make savings - and our bus data engine can help identify them.

We believe there are opportunities beyond the obvious benefits to passengers and communities - opportunities to make savings - and our bus data engine can help identify them.

Here’s an example: Electric vehicles offer much faster acceleration than their conventionally-powered brethren. We’ve all seen the incredible acceleration that can be achieved by the very latest electric cars – and it’s the same for electric buses. This means that, all things being equal, an electric bus will get from Stop A to Stop B potentially more quickly than the diesel bus it replaces. 

On the face of it, the time saved may not be significant – a second here or there, maybe a minute or so per trip. But even a two or three percent improvement in average bus speed can realise significant cost savings, particularly if that cost saving is compounded over two, three, five or even ten years. And that saving can be realised from something as simple as an electric bus departing from a bus stop or traffic light quicker than a diesel bus. Incredible isn’t it?! 

But this shows how important it is for transit agencies to have a technical, data-driven approach that can help not only to ensure a smooth rollout but also to help identify the opportunities that open up with the switch to zero emission buses. But it’s important to remember that every network is different.

Agencies will need to look closely at their networks to see what is achievable – factors like topography, trip length and network scope will all need to be closely examined. Each and every bus network is different, but we believe that by combining the vast local knowledge of local network network planners with our cutting-edge technology, we can deliver a compelling solution that will help with the roll-out of zero emission buses and put the wider transit sector into the fast lane for a greener future.

James McCarthy is Head of Operations at CitySwift. Read parts 1 and 2 of his series on the National Bus Strategy.

Learn more about CitySwift’s specialist bus data engine, request a demo or contact us to discover how CitySwift can help you bus back better.

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