Benefits and Implementation Challenges of Bus Electrification
The number of transit BEBs currently on order or operating in the U.S. grew 112 percent from 2018 to 2021. As of 2021, more than 1,300 zero-emission transit buses were delivered or awarded to U.S. transit agencies, although this encompasses only 2 percent of the U.S. transit bus fleet. Similarly, only 1,800 ESBs are operating or have been ordered by school districts, meaning that around 95 percent of the approximately 500,000 school buses nationwide run on diesel fuels.
BEBs have benefits for transit agencies, as well as the surrounding communities in which the vehicles operate. BEBs are more energy efficient than diesel buses and have fewer moving parts, potentially decreasing fuel and maintenance costs for transit agencies. At the same time, the surrounding communities will experience the same environmental benefits as they do for EVs in general as described above. BEBs operate more quietly, producing less noise, and have zero harmful tailpipe emissions, which will improve local air quality. Studies on school buses have shown the air quality can be worse inside the bus than outside of it, which is particularly harmful for children, as research shows that childhood asthma and related health issues are made worse by air pollution and vehicle emissions. The environmental benefits from BEBs and ESBs are especially important for communities overburdened by pollution.
The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) provides year-round public transit and paratransit service for residents and tourists between the six towns and the Wampanoag Tribe on the Island, which is located off the coast of mainland Massachusetts. In 2021, to support their electric bus fleet, VTA unveiled solar canopies connected to EVSE that have the capacity to charge 40 buses, seven vans, and six cars. The VTA has already found that their electric bus fleet reduces energy costs and emissions. They expect the buses also to have lower operational and maintenance costs. Additionally, the EVSE has the added benefit of providing back-up power off the main grid during natural disasters. VTA’s The Island’s 2020-2040 Regional Transportation Plan describes economic and infrastructure challenges posed by the Island’s seasonal, tourism-based economy and notes the importance of the VTA bus system in serving minority and low-income populations.
Planning for electric buses and charging infrastructure is complex and requires different decision-making than diesel bus deployment, so transit agencies, school districts, and other bus fleet operators need to invest resources upfront to plan appropriately. Adopting BEBs and ESBs requires an updated fleet design, planning for upfront costs, and development of staff capabilities to operate and maintain the electric buses. Additionally, operational challenges include variability of battery range and electricity rate structures. Finally, school bus and transit bus fleets planning the adoption of electrified buses need to begin conversations with their local electric utility very early in the planning process to ensure adequate availability of power.
For more information, see Planning for Electric Buses.