Navigant Research Blog

Denver RTD Hops on the Electric Bus Line

— October 3, 2017

Commitments to electric buses (e-buses) are ramping up in the United States. Several agencies are bringing in fleets of a few dozen to over 100 e-buses over the next few years. One such agency, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver, is deploying 36 e-buses from Chinese company BYD Motors, Inc. Among the biggest drivers for the interest in e-buses is their increased efficiency. These BYD buses are expected to get 12 MPGe to 14 MPGe, significantly improving on the 3-4 miles per gallon of diesel buses. E-buses also have reduced maintenance costs. RTD says the biggest maintenance issue with these buses are the doors.

BYD Bus Details

Each vehicle costs $750,000; this includes the price of the battery chargers and a lifetime warranty for the lithium iron phosphate batteries. Lithium iron phosphate batteries were chosen for two reasons: they are designed to prevent thermal runaway and the batteries are air-cooled to maintain a narrow range of temperatures.

The buses have a maximum battery capacity of 292 kWh that requires 3-4 hours of charging time, giving them 12-14 hours of continuous use before requiring a charge. This has been demonstrated to provide 200 miles of range at 30-40 mph. However, in operation, the range is closer to 80 miles because buses make frequent stops during the 1.3-mile route.

Incorporating E-Buses into the Fleet

Three-phase alternating current (AC) fast-charging stations were installed for the fleet. The AC-to-direct current (DC) converter is onboard the bus. The lack of fast-charging standards in the United States for heavy duty vehicle e-buses is a challenge, as buses must be coupled with proprietary standards. That being the case, RTD has opted to use European standards. The construction of the charging station cost $432,000; this figure does not include the cost of the battery charging equipment.

Because the new fleet is quieter than traditional buses, they have been outfitted with noise generators (that fluctuates pitch with the vehicle’s speed) to notify pedestrians of their presence when operating along the pedestrian-oriented 16th Street Mall. The buses were ordered in 2015 and manufactured in China; final assembly will take place in Lancaster, California to meet Buy America requirements. As of August 2017, 34 of 36 buses had been delivered. RTD has indicated it hopes to incorporate e-buses in regular operations in the future.

Although the e-bus rollout has been successful to date, RTD reports that few agencies have reached out for advice about implementing their own e-bus fleets. Nevertheless, transit agencies across the United States are taking a good look at e-buses.

Other Market Drivers

While lower operations and maintenance costs are already market drivers, there are other market drivers that will become more prominent and increase the desire for e-bus adoption. Dynamic charging systems would enable buses to carry smaller batteries, decreasing costs. In addition, vehicle automation is well-suited for EVs on fixed routes, including buses. Other market drivers include increasing cities’ targets for air quality and climate change concerns and increased demand for vehicles with a reduced carbon footprint. According to Navigant Research’s recent Market Data: Electric Drive Buses report, electric powertrain buses (including all types of hybrids) are expected to grow from approximately 21% of the total bus market in 2017 to around 22% in 2027.

 

Market Solutions for Transit Deserts

— September 14, 2017

When discussing new disruptive mobility solutions, comments on their effects on public transportation are often not far behind. Many believe that public transportation cannot compete with the convenient, on-demand, door-to-door service offered by transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft and Uber. Some see TNCs and other mobility services as poaching transit riders. Others view these solutions as complementary to public transportation as they provide services to unaddressed transit deserts or other underserved communities.

Two areas that provide opportunity for growth for TNCs—and an opportunity to support public transit operations—are transit desert services and first and last mile (a term used to describe the portion of a commuter’s trip between their place of origin and where they connect with a mode of public transportation). A few pilot programs demonstrate their potential and provide insight into how best to execute these services.

Centennial/Lyft Pilot Program

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver has had great success in providing public transit services throughout the region. RTD has launched three rail lines and one bus rapid transit line in the past 2 years and is expecting to open a fourth rail line before the end of 2017.

To provide a solution to a lack of connectivity and decrease single occupancy vehicle trips, the City of Centennial partnered with Lyft for a 6-month pilot program that provided Lyft Line rides free of charge to and from the Dry Creek light rail station within the existing RTD Call-n-Ride service area. Centennial subsidized these rides and service was exclusively offered through Lyft. While the program duration was short and had underwhelming ridership, results suggest that mobility solutions provided by companies may work as a supplement to existing transit services.

Lyft Shuttle and Ford Chariot

Recognizing that many of the rides given between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. are for work commutes, Lyft now offers a new pilot service in Chicago called Lyft Shuttle. Looking at trip data, Lyft identified common travel routes that exist in transit deserts, then created fixed routes where riders could reserve a seat via the app and walk to designated pick-up locations to catch a shared ride at a reduced cost compared to a Lyft or Lyft Line.

In 2016, Ford acquired the San Francisco-based startup Chariot. Chariot offers a service similar to Lyft Shuttle. Riders can reserve a seat on a Chariot shuttle via the Chariot app and travel along fixed routes in transit deserts in select cities. Chariot’s business model is unique in that any community can crowdsource interest in a Chariot route by having 50 individuals express interest in using a route if it was offered by the app.

Automated Transit Networks

Automated transit network (ATN) is a catchall term for self-driving shuttles, and there are several existing electric ATN pilot programs around the world. These automated services run on predetermined routes and carry anywhere from 4 to 24 passengers at a time. Notable ATN systems include 2getthere, Vectus, Modutram, and Ultra.

ATNs can provide users with an automated, high frequency mobility solution along fixed routes. Existing ATNs provide services for universities, hospitals, business parks, and airports, but other services have been speculated, such as replacing costly public transit infrastructure or filling in gaps in transit services.

Several factors are creating opportunities for a shift in the classic paradigm of private automobile ownership. As increasing urban density and traffic congestion drive consumers to look for new alternatives, companies are racing to provide them with new mobility services. The services mentioned above are just some of the market disruptors responding to this shift.

 

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