As you embark on your low-no emissions journey, it’s important to avoid some of the common mistakes that can create real roadblocks for your municipality. At Mortenson, we’ve been working with transit authorities to get their eBus fleets on the road, and while most of the details get worked out, there are a few pitfalls you can avoid to make the process smoother. Here are the top 5 mistakes we’ve seen:
Because local government entities are under the gun to implement eBus fleets to meet federal or state energy-savings or zero-emissions mandates, they’re often tempted to begin with the shiny new bus – this isn’t illogical, because the bus is the thing constituents and taxpayers see as the result and symbol of the effort. And, after all, voters can’t step aboard cost-savings and there are no ribbon-cuttings for energy efficiency. But the risk is that selecting a bus prior to knowing your technology or infrastructure needs (the backbone of your new fleet) could result in long-term costs that undermine your efforts.
There is a solid business case for electric buses. Fewer moving parts, longer life-span, less maintenance. Long-term, they’re cheaper and more reliable than diesel fleets. But you already have the fuel and maintenance infrastructure in place to handle your existing fleet. Because it’s tempting to make Mistake #1 (starting with buses), you’ll see that many municipalities and transit authorities then make Mistake #2 – they’ll go through countless meetings and approvals, even setting up complex scoring rubrics to evaluate bus manufacturers, and merely slugging in a made-up number for building the charging infrastructure. We’ve seen versions of this a few times in official City Council minutes:
*$5,000,000 – We’ll get an actual number, once we select a contractor
No kidding. It happens. But infrastructure done wrong can cost your city (and voters) hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars over time.
Slow-charging, fast-charging, onboard, offboard. Kilowatt hours. Managing routes versus charging times. Getting riders where they need to be on time. There are so many things to manage with your new zero-emissions fleet that it sometimes feels like you’re playing underwater 3-dimensional chess. When you are figuring it all out, it’s critical to not only select the right technology, infrastructure and buses, but you also need to optimize how and when your fleet is consuming energy. Remember, diesel fleet infrastructure is predictable – you know, within a certain window and assuming no oil-related crisis emerges, what your fuel costs look like over time. But small fluctuations in electricity consumption, particularly with respect to peak usage, could have a big impact on your budget, even with favorable municipal rates. It’s important to balance consumption and maximize off-peak charging to ensure your fleet maintains its cost advantage.
As you begin your low/no emissions efforts, you’ll be tempted to develop vendor-scoring matrices, dive into the best-practices of other municipalities, look for federal and state incentives and other worthwhile endeavors. But one of the most critical components of deploying a new eBus fleet is ensuring that as you phase out your diesel fleet over decades (let’s be honest, this won’t happen overnight), is the charging technology you choose today. You’ll be deploying infrastructure – whether in the form of a centralized charging depot, route charging, or a combination – and the long-term benefits (or costs) of those choices need to be weighed. As we’ve helped deploy new fleets, it has become clear that the options can sometimes overwhelm decision makers and confuse stakeholders.
Amending existing fleets has been relatively straightforward for most municipalities and transit authorities. Because the infrastructure has largely been in place for decades, adding vehicles and routes has been mostly a matter of budget and need. But replacing traditional diesel buses with a low or no-emissions fleet is a different animal. It’s tempting to think about your new electric fleet as separate parts – buses, charging, routes, infrastructure, etc. – but as you move forward, your success or failure will hinge on whether you take a holistic approach or simply cut and paste pieces together and hope it all works.